Hawaii Governor Wrong that Demise of Random Drug Testing Program Puts Teacher Pay Raise at Risk

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
February 1, 2008 12:00 am

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In Letter Delivered Today, Legal and Labor Experts Demand Governor Retract Unfounded Threat


HONOLULU – A diverse group of legal and labor experts and public school educators delivered a letter to Governor Linda Lingle today demanding that she retract legally baseless threats to withhold teachers’ pay raises. In response to the Board of Education’s decision last week not to divert money from Hawaii’s classrooms to fund a random teacher drug testing program, Lingle threatened to deny teachers a pay raise included in their current contract.

“Governor Lingle should immediately set the record straight and retract her unfounded threat to Hawaii’s hardworking educators,” said Vanessa Chong, Executive Director of the ACLU of Hawaii. “The Governor’s conduct, designed to silence those who would stand up for the Constitution and the best interest of Hawaii’s classrooms, is indefensible and unacceptable.”

In addition to Chong, the letter is signed by former University of Hawaii Law School Dean Richard Miller, noted labor organizer Ah Quon McElrath, and a group of committed educators from throughout Hawaii’s public school system.

The letter makes clear that the pay raise promised to teachers in their current contract can be in no way jeopardized by the demise of the random drug testing program:

“No matter what happens to the drug testing program, the State must still provide the salary increase promised its teachers…The truth is that teachers may challenge any illegal portion of their labor contract. The Board of Education may choose to direct resources to students rather than funding your drug testing program. Neither of these actions would invalidate the entire contract.”

The letter points out that the teachers’ contract contains a “severability” clause – meaning that if a particular portion of the contract is found to be legally invalid, the rest of the contract remains intact. The Governor is legally forbidden from claiming otherwise, according to the letter.

In addition, the State has already taken the position that certain provisions of the current teachers’ contract will not be followed and that this will have no impact on the remainder of the contract. The letter cites as an example a contract provision reducing the probationary period for new teachers that conflicts with state statute. The State has, therefore, refused to alter the probationary period as called for by the contract. However, neither the Governor nor any other government official has suggested that the termination of this single contract provision in any way threatens the rest of the contract – including teacher pay raises.

The letter goes on to state that the Governor’s threat violates teachers’ First Amendment rights by attempting to silence those who oppose the random drug testing policy:

“Leaving teachers with the false impression that they may stand up for their civil rights only at the expense of their salaries treads on their constitutionally protected freedoms.”

Following delivery of the letter this afternoon, several teachers who oppose the random drug testing policy spoke to a group gathered outside of Governor Lingle’s office.

The letter can be found online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/testing/33891lgl20080201.html

Additional background information, including video testimonials from teachers opposed to the random drug testing policy, is available online at: www.aclu.org/teachersjoinus.

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