Spotsylvania School Board nixes drug testing; encourages unlicensed teachers to help with shortage

by | Jun 25, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, Spotsylvania

The hiring of a new superintendent was not the only item of business on the agenda for the Spotsylvania County School Board Monday night. 

After the board voted to enter a contract with Clint Mitchell as the division’s new school chief, it reaffirmed its existing drug testing policy and approved the usage of non-licensed, interim teachers for the third consecutive year. 

The board voted 4-0 to continue drug testing only those employees with a commercial driver’s license. Lee Hill District representative Lisa Phelps encouraged the school system to start drug testing all employees who encounter students following the arrest of a Spotswood Elementary School second-grade teacher, who allegedly possessed drugs in her classroom. 

Phelps, April Gillespie of the Berkeley District and Courtland District board member Carol Medawar did not attend the meeting. 

“The data really did not support a need to implement drug testing,” said board member Megan Jackson (Livingston District). “There was practically nothing to show that it would be a need for us.” 

The board listened to a presentation from staff on the division’s employee assistance program. The presentation noted that Virginia code does not require drug testing for anyone who does not possess a CDL for employment purposes. 

Division staff said employers must be careful about singling out individuals who they believe should be drug tested because many of the symptoms of drug use resemble disabilities and other medical conditions. The presentation cited slurred speech, disorientation and a lack of coordination as symptoms that could either be related to intoxication, a disability or an illness.  

Staff warned the board that individuals who are disabled or have an underlying medical condition are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and that “singling them out for testing or disciplinary action could result in charges of discrimination.”

The presentation also cited American Public Health Association reports that suggest punitive workplace substance abuse policies, including zero tolerance and last-chance policies, can become hindrances to employees seeking help for addiction. 

Currently, school division employees are presented a drug-free and alcohol-free workplace compliance policy upon hiring. The policy notes that a violation can result in disciplinary action, including termination. 

The Centers for Disease Control recommends implementing workplace policies focused on recovery rather than punishment. The agency’s suggestions include communicating policies clearly, training supervisors and employees, promoting a healthy work environment, reducing the stigma associated with substance abuse, utilizing an employee assistance program and focusing on prevention of future occurrences. 

The cost associated with widespread drug testing was also a deterrent for the board. It would cost $64,000 per year to test 25% of the full-time staff randomly; $127,000 for 50%; $190,000 for 75% and $253,000 for 100%. 

Later in the meeting, the board voted 4-0 to temporarily reclassify up to 75 teaching positions to be filled with non-licensed staff serving as interim teachers for one year. It is the third consecutive year such a change has been made, with Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Williams citing a statewide teacher shortage of 5,500. 

The interim teachers must have an associate’s degree or 60 college credits, be actively enrolled in an education preparation program, have one year successfully working with students and a favorable reference or evaluation from a recent supervisor.  A licensure specialist will work closely with them to provide feedback on courses or programs that can help them achieve full licensure. 

Board member Belen Rodas of the Chancellor District said interim teachers are the “least bad” option to work around the teacher shortage. 

“Hopefully, as we continue building a school division that people want to work in and getting people compensated appropriately, we will someday in the glorious future have our pick of licensed educators,” Rodas said. “But until that day, I think our options are people who are somewhat qualified, people who are not qualified at all or increasing class sizes … I hope soon in the future we won’t have to be doing this.” 

There were 54 interim teachers last year. Forty-two are returning, and seven have since received full licensure. 

Williams noted there are other avenues to licensure in the county. The division was approved to get a teacher apprenticeship implementation grant. Six apprentices are enrolled in the University of Mary Washington, and the grant pays for 100% of their coursework.  

The apprentices will become licensed to teach special education with an emphasis on autism. Williams said there is also a special education cohort through Regent University in which individuals take the classes needed for their provisional license. The division also started a planning committee to host a provisional academy to be implemented in fiscal year 2026. 

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