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Candidates shy away from teacher drug tests

MCT REGIONAL NEWS

By Ry Rivard

Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.

(MCT)

Sept. 09--Both the Democrat and Republican candidates for governor on Thursday appeared to back away from suggestions they would like to test West Virginia teachers for drugs.

When asked about strategies for tackling the drug problem, Republican Bill Maloney said during a debate Wednesday in Wheeling, "We need to drug test teachers."

Afterward, his Democratic opponent, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, told The Associated Press he's not philosophically opposed to the idea. Many unions are working with companies to randomly test employees, he said, and "for people in responsible places, it would not hurt to have some random testing."

Schools are allowed to do for-cause or suspicion-based testing, a method accepted by teachers unions for testing teachers who appear impaired on the job. But, so far, public school systems have met legal roadblocks in trying to do tests at random.

During Wednesday's debate, Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber dismissed the drug-testing notion, according to the AP.

"I think it's great rhetoric. I think it's an easy way to get votes," he said, according to AP, "and I think it would be extremely difficult to implement."

Asked to clarify their positions Thursday, campaigns for Maloney and Tomblin were not so open to the idea of testing as the candidates themselves were Wednesday.

"Earl Ray Tomblin supports having safe environments for our students and teachers and recognizes the important role they play in the lives of our young people," Tomblin campaign spokesman Chris Stadelman said in an email.

"A federal judge in West Virginia ruled in 2009 that suspicionless random drug tests of teachers were not constitutional, and the governor has no intention of challenging that ruling."

He was referring to a legal battle the Kanawha County school board had two years ago over its controversial plan to randomly drug test teachers and most other school employees.

In response to a lawsuit over the school board's policy, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin issued a sweeping condemnation of the random drug-testing plan. The board then dropped its plan.

The fallout from the litigation cost the county tens of thousands of dollar in legal fees.

Asked to clarify Maloney's position, his campaign spokeswoman did not specifically repeat the call to drug test teachers.

"West Virginia has the highest per capita overdose death rate in the nation and this statistic effects everyone," Maloney campaign spokeswoman Michelle Yi said in an email. "As governor, Bill Maloney will do all that he can to ensure that those who we trust the safety of our children to, keep our classrooms drug-free.

"Bill will listen to all ideas -- including proposals on the effectiveness of drug testing -- and lead on this issue so that the state can get rid of this tragic and alarming figure."

Contact writer Ry Rivard at 304-348-1796 or ry.rivard@dailymail.com.

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(c)2011 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)

Visit the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.) at www.dailymail.com

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