New Manatee teachers may face drug tests

Manatee County board considering requirement for all district applicants

nalund@bradenton.comSeptember 10, 2009 

BRADENTON — To land a teaching job, new school district employees may have to take a drug test.

Manatee County school board members are considering amending employment policies to require all applicants, including teachers and substitutes, to pass a drug screening test.

Currently, drug tests are not a pre-employment requirement.

But the district can send any employee to be tested if they appear to be impaired, said Pat Barber, Manatee County Education Association president.

The state of Florida has left it up to each county to decide whether to drug test its applicants.

Orange County does it.

So does Sarasota.

“We drug test all new employees, including substitutes,” said Sarasota school district spokesman Scott Ferguson.

One exception are students currently enrolled who work part time for the district, Ferguson said.

The Manatee school board plans to discuss the changes during Monday night’s regular meeting. They are scheduled to vote on it after a public hearing Oct. 12.

If approved, current employees would not be tested, said School Board Attorney John Bowen.

The district would foot the bill.

“But you can’t put a price tag on being sure we have a drug-free work environment,” said School Board member Harry Kinnan.

Student-athletes are among those in the district who are randomly tested.

“It’s done as a deterrent ... gives them a reason to say no,” Kinnan said. “It’s only right to make sure school employees are tested, too. It’s kind of a natural extension.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Jenny Lages, who teaches 11th grade English at Manatee High School. “We don’t want the students using them, so we should make sure teachers are not.”

District officials say they haven’t had any incidents to prompt the change.

They are merely trying to avoid problems before they happen, said Superintendent Tim McGonegal.

“I’ve witnessed it in other counties where people walked up to the HR office and saw the (drug-testing) sign and walked away,” McGonegal said. “It will be effective from a pure discoureffective from a pure discouragement standpoint.”

University of South Florida education Professor Sherman Dorn called statewide substitute employment requirements “pretty minimal.

“You just have to have a high school degree and the standard criminal background, but a lot of districts are now going beyond that.”

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