(11/22/2008)
By Ry Rivard
Daily Mail staff
dailymail.com

November 20, 2008 - Charleston, W.Va. - As teacher organizations and their lawyers make a final plea before heading to court over a plan to randomly drug test teachers, the Kanawha County school board is expected to begin ironing out the details of its plan.

Several lawyers, brought in by organizations representing nearly 20,000 teachers around the state, will ask the board this evening to reconsider the idea before it goes into effect.

If the policy that was approved by a 4-1 vote in October doesn't suddenly lose support, the board members may discuss how many teachers will be tested and when testing will begin.

It appears likely the board will consider randomly testing about a fourth of county employees, including teachers, coaches and some service personnel. The county already tests 50 percent of bus drivers and can test other employees if they are suspected of doing drugs.

If the plan is put in place, there appears to be a basic method a company and the school system would follow to conduct tests.

The human resources department of the school system would send the testing company a list of school employees each month. The company would use computer software to randomly select a certain percentage of employees.

The company would travel to schools and give employees a few minutes notice before the tests and up to three hours to urinate.

The urine samples would be tested.

If they were negative, school administrators would be quickly informed via a secure Web site.

In the case of positive tests, the samples would be re-analyzed using a different method, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. If the sample again tested positive for drugs, a medical review officer would contact the employee to find out if there was an explanation for the results -- prescription medications, things like poppy seeds -- and could follow up with the employee's doctors. If there didn't appear to be a logical or legal explanation, school officials would finally be notified.

The process is meant to weed out "false positives" that the head of AFT-WV said could destroy a person's career.

"In 17 years, I've never seen a false positive. They just don't happen because of the screen and confirmation," said Michael Day, the president of Health Research System based in Huntington. The company does about 20,000 drug tests a year for area school systems including pre-employment screenings for Kanawha, along with tests for other government agencies and private companies.

Day said there are other misconceptions about drug tests. People who worry being busted for cold medication or secondhand marijuana smoke have little to fear. He said the tests have built in "cut-off levels."

"Someone is going to have basically be in a phone booth with eight other people to have enough (marijuana) in their system to get above that level," Day said.

Urine can typically identify cocaine and meth from 72 hours to a week after its use. Marijuana can stay in the system for up to 30 days.

The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and its lawyers declined to discuss their legal strategy going into today's meetings, but they appear to be lobbying the board to avoid what could be a costly legal battle for everyone.

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