Criminal background checks are already required of volunteers, the council notes, and the testing adds to “barriers for many parents, Black and brown parents in particular, to volunteer in schools.” Of particular concern was planned testing for marijuana. Said Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the letter’s originator, who is also threatening to introduce emergency legislation to quash the quest for drug users, “I don’t understand why DCPS would choose to put up a new barrier to test for a substance that we have legalized in D.C.”
The policy is meant to comply with a 2004 law that mandates drug and alcohol testing for many District employees. It should be noted that the program does not only test for THC — cannabis’s main psychoactive element — but also for amphetamines, opiates, cocaine and PCP.
Apparently quaking in their boots, D.C. schools officials released a statement: “We value the feedback from the D.C. Council and our community. We are reviewing our policies to determine whether any further changes can be made to align with the spirit of the District’s values and adhere to federal regulations.”
A central question: When it comes to having a drug-free educational environment for children, what, pray tell, are “the District’s values”?
There was a time when D.C. Public Schools believed that positions were “safety-sensitive” if they involved having a significant degree of contact with students — i.e., teachers, school staff, bus drivers, etc. Those employees and staff, under DCPS policy, were, and still are, subject to mandatory drug and alcohol testing.
DCPS’s new policy would also apply to contractors. Should not DCPS-related after-school programs have a drug-free environment, as required in DCPS classrooms and playgrounds? Aren’t people involved with community-based organizations that partner with DCPS also occupants of “safety-sensitive” positions?
Drug testing, it is being argued by council members, will prove burdensome to bringing volunteers into the program.
Daniela Grigioni, executive director of After School All Stars DC, which offers several after-school programs, told Washington City Paper that she has heard the drug-testing process can take weeks to complete. “They will not wait that long. They need the money,” she said of new hires. Whoa, volunteers or paid workers?
Either way, is their inconvenience reason to throw out drug testing?
Consider this values-laced question, D.C. lawmakers: Is it all right for someone using cocaine, heroin or PCP, or high on marijuana or alcohol, to work with the city’s children?
If the answer is no — and I wouldn’t bet on getting a unanimous vote out of this present-day crop of council members — then wouldn’t it make more sense to pause the effort to stop this policy? Isn’t it the better part of policymaking to encourage the development of a testing program that works, above all, in the best interests of all children and parents?
Or do they not come first?
A pesky D.C. values question.