County eyes random drug-testing of employees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 8, 2007

COURTLAND—Some members of the Board of Supervisors would like to see a broader drug-testing policy for county employees, including those who work for the school system.

During a discussion at their monthly meeting last week, Southampton’s board members expressed dismay when they learned that random drug tests are limited to school and county employees who hold commercial driver’s licenses.

&uot;I think every employee should be subjected to random drug tests,&uot; Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown said.

Ronald West, who represents the Berlin-Ivor District, said he had been approached by Virginia State Police officers, who expressed concern over the fact that Southampton does not randomly test all county and school employees who come into contact with children.

&uot;We should be good stewards,&uot; he said.

School Superintendent Charles Turner confirmed for supervisors that the School Board’s policy is to randomly test school bus drivers and others who hold commercial driver’s licenses required for school business.

That testing policy does not extend to those who drive the dozens of cars used by school employees, even those used to transport children, he said later.

In a telephone interview late last week, Turner said the school system subjects all its employees — including bus drivers, teachers and administrators — to background and fingerprint checks through the Sheriff’s Department.

The drug tests for bus drivers started in the mid-nineties as a result of federal highway administration regulations, he said.

Turner said there had been no other discussion about drug tests since that time, and he would not say whether the issue is likely to turn up on future School Board agendas.

&uot;It’s inappropriate for me to comment on it at this time, without speaking to the board,&uot; he said.

During the supervisors’ meeting last Monday, County Administrator Michael Johnson reminded his board that the School Board operates autonomously and is not subject to demands from the Board of Supervisors.

Johnson said he would research the drug testing policies of other Virginia localities and report back to the board during a future meeting.

The issue arises in the wake of the recent drunk-driving conviction of Rebecca Whitehurst, a former Teacher of the Year at Meherrin Elementary School.

Whitehurst was convicted in General District Court last month of driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana in a case stemming from the crash. Her six-year-old son was not belted into his seat and died at the scene. She has appealed the DUI conviction and two seat-belt convictions.