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Random drug tests for teachers

Lake Central schools Superintendent Larry Veracco said he anticipates a discussion of policies for drug testing teachers more often at Monday night's School Board meeting, in the wake of a Lake Central High School teacher recently allegedly caught using cocaine in the classroom.

Samantha Cox, 24, of Cedar Lake, was removed from the classroom Nov. 22 and held at the Lake County Jail until she posted a $10,000 bond later that same day. She is on paid administrative leave.

The teacher allegedly told police after her arrest she purchased $160 worth of cocaine that morning before coming to school, according to court records released after the incident by the Lake County prosecutor's office. 

Cox told police she usually purchased "dope" after school, but was feeling sick that morning, records state. She said she had used cocaine for four years, since her freshman year at college, according to court records. 

Cox told police she snorted the cocaine at 10:20 a.m. while alone in her classroom, records state. She said the door was locked, but students must have seen her through the door window. Some students took video of the incident and posted it online, where it went viral.

Veracco said, "We currently randomly test student-drivers and those in extracurricular activities. I do not know the specifics of what our current health plan covers but do plan to get a handle on that prior to Monday’s meeting, in case the question comes up. I am unaware of any school districts currently testing new hires or current staff members other than bus drivers."

No law requires random teacher drug tests

State law requires school districts to randomly drug test bus drivers, and some school districts drug test all new employees, but most administrators said it is unlikely they would consider random drug tests for teachers. Every school district in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties also offers an employee assistance program.

Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Board Association, said according to Lisa Tanselle, ISBA general counsel, courts have not allowed random drug testing of public employees unless they are in safety- sensitive positions, such as school bus drivers.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith said, “Schools already have the ability to test educators for substance abuse if they have probable cause.”

"Apparently, the administration did not have reasonable suspicion prior to the incident," Spradlin said of the Lake Central incident.

GlenEva Dunham, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers and the Gary Teachers Union, said sometimes teachers are on medication that can be mistaken for an illicit drug.

"We do criminal background checks," she said. "I don't think we should set the tone that we think people are on drugs. I don't think that's something the union would support. It's never been a problem before."

Similar drug test policies throughout Region

Whiting schools Superintendent Cindy Scroggins said all new employees are drug tested, along with their physical exam, before they are board-approved.

"After hire, the only personnel that participate in random drug testing are the CDL bus drivers, which is required by law and the Department of Transportation, and any employees that drives other school-owned vehicles," Scroggins said.

"We also do believe in the importance for support for our employees, and we do have a board policy for an employee assistance program."

Similarly, Michigan City Area Schools spokeswoman Betsy Kohn said MCAS does not randomly drug test students or employees. The exception is bus drivers, who are tested as part of the hiring process and if a bus driver is involved in an accident.

"We have an EAP program in place for all MCAS employees," she said.

"Our School Board has discussed drug testing for students involved in extracurriculars, but has not moved forward on a testing program due to cost and logistics. They may revisit this in the future, however," Kohn said.

No plans to require random tests

Union Township schools Superintendent John Hunter said the district performs random drug tests on students involved in extracurricular activities and those who drive to school as well as bus drivers. "At this time, we do not perform random drug tests on other employee groups and have no plans to do so at this time," he said.

East Porter County schools Superintendent Rod Gardin said "random drug testing is conducted for students in grades seven through 12 and bus drivers."

"If we have a suspicion that an employee is impaired, ... we can require that employee to submit to an evaluation. In the 13 years that I have been in East Porter County, there hasn't been an occasion where an employee has appeared to be impaired."

Gardin said he intends to bring the topic up with the School Board to see if they want to add a drug screen as an employment condition.

Hebron schools Superintendent Nathan Kleefisch said the district conducts a national criminal background check on potential employees, and about a year ago began doing a check through the Department of Children and Family Services.

"It's a sad day in our educational community to see any person, especially a young teacher, be caught up in this," he said, echoing the comments of several other superintendents.

"This is a relatively new situation and hasn't been discussed. We will have conversations with the School Board and the teachers union to see how they feel about it."

Dana Teasley, general counsel for 21st Century Charter School in Gary, said it does not have a policy of random testing but follows all state and federal laws should there be a suspicion of drug use, as required by the Drug-Free Workplace Act.

Highland schools Superintendent Brian Smith said they don't plan to "randomly drug test the employees."

Munster schools Superintendent Jeff Hendrix said, "Although we do not have a random drug-testing program for staff, the district can request a Fitness of Duty Examination, which could include testing for illegal drugs. This would only be implemented if a supervisor observed (questionable) actions."

Hammond Academy of Science and Technology Principal Sean Egan said it does not require any kind of testing, random or otherwise, for staff or students.


Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.