Hawaii Governor Refuses to Retract Teacher Drug Testing Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
November 15, 2007 12:00 am

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Calling the Policy Unconstitutional, ACLU Announces Plans to File Suit Imminently

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HONOLULU – The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Governor Lingle’s refusal to retract a policy that will subject as many as 13,500 public school employees, including teachers, librarians and many administrative workers to random drug testing. Saying that the drug testing program violates adults’ constitutional right to privacy and is ineffective and costly, the ACLU announced today that it will file suit imminently in federal court.

“We must now turn to the courts to preserve the right to privacy,” said Vanessa Chong, Executive Director of the ACLU of Hawaii. “The Governor’s willingness to sacrifice the fundamental rights of public employees is deplorable. It is incomprehensible that she advocates violating both the U.S. and state constitution and wasting precious taxpayer dollars for this ineffective drug testing scheme.”

The ACLU served Governor Lingle a detailed, five-page demand letter in October that presented a comprehensive legal analysis of the drug testing policy and requested that it be canceled by today’s deadline of November 15. In a two-paragraph letter dated October 22, but sent on November 6, Governor Lingle informed the ACLU that she will proceed with the policy, saying that, “We find nothing in your letter that convinces us to the contrary.”

Because Governor Lingle has failed to retract the policy, the ACLU announced today that it will file a legal challenge in federal court on behalf of a group of Hawaii public school employees early next year. More than 200 educators from Hawaii have contacted the ACLU seeking to challenge the random drug testing policy.

The plan to randomly drug test educators absent any suspicion is the first of its kind in the United States. The policy was instituted at the insistence of Governor Lingle during contract negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Association earlier this year. As the deadline loomed to end negotiations, the Governor made clear that she would refuse to sign any contract that lacked mandatory, random drug testing.

In addition to being demonstrably ineffective and exceedingly costly, according to the ACLU, random drug testing violates Hawaii educators’ constitutional right to privacy and teaches an abject civics lesson to Hawaii’s students.

Critics of the blanket testing policy also point out that provisions already exist under current Department of Education policy to drug test any educator who arouses suspicion of drug use.

“The men and women who teach in the classrooms of Hawaii’s public schools are demoralized by the Governor’s decision to spend hundreds of dollars to drug test one teacher while they barely have enough money to provide students with textbooks and school supplies,” said Carlie Ware, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project who will litigate the legal challenge. “We look forward to standing with these courageous teachers to get this misguided policy off the books.”

The ACLU remains interested in speaking with potential plaintiffs. Hawaii public school educators interested in participating in this legal challenge can contact the ACLU by sending an email to teachersjoinus@aclu.org, calling toll-free at (888) 9-JoinUs, or by filling out an online form at www.aclu.org/teachersjoinus.

All information received by the ACLU will be kept strictly confidential.

The ACLU demand letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/32086lgl20071004.html. Governor Lingle’s response letter is online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/32775lgl20071022.html. Additional background information can be found at: www.aclu.org/teachersjoinus.

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