Drug Test Was A Must, Schools Chief Testifies 

Drug Test Was A Must, Schools Chief Testifies 
Posted by FoM on December 10, 1999 at 08:33:13 PT
By Scott Fallon, Staff Writer
Source: Bergen Record
It didn't matter if nurses weren't able to smell marijuana on Nicholas Lucatorto. And it shouldn't have been a concern if the Wayne high school student's eyes were dilated or normal.
The superintendent of Wayne schools testified Thursday that although there were inconsistent accounts about the appearance of the junior suspected of drug use, a vice principal should have automatically ordered a test for the teen -- and should now be fired for not doing so.Joseph Graceffo, already suspended, faces termination at an administrative law hearing. He did not heed a Wayne Hills High School teacher's request to administer a drug test to Lucatorto, an 11th-grader, in late January even though the teacher said Lucatorto smelled of marijuana smoke. Lucatorto died two weeks later from a heroin overdose at an overnight house party -- a tragedy that was followed by an aggressive reinforcement of the school's drug testing policy.Under the policy, an administrator must order a urinalysis for any student suspected of drug use. School officials have said they have a "zero-tolerance" policy when deciding whether to order a drug screening for students suspected of drug use.In October, Susan Ammerman, a physical-education teacher at Wayne Hills, testified that on Jan. 21 she smelled marijuana on Lucatorto and noticed that his pupils were dilated. Ammerman reported her findings to Graceffo. Two school nurses who examined the teen later testified that his eyes were normal and he smelled only of cigarette smoke.While the nurses were performing their examination, Graceffo phoned Lucatorto's mother to tell her about the incident. Lucatorto's mother informed Graceffo that her son had been sick with the flu and was on prescription medication. Graceffo decided not to order a urinalysis.The next morning, Robert Flower, head of the physical-education department, reported to Graceffo that he smelled marijuana on Lucatorto that day. Graceffo thought Flower was referring to the incident with Ammerman and assured Flower that the matter had already been "taken care of."On Thursday, Superintendent Ray V. Kwak conceded there were "different degrees of detail" about the incident. But he maintained that Ammerman told Graceffo she believed Lucatorto was under the influence and therefore the teen should have been tested."All the statements confirmed that she wanted the student tested," he said.Kwak also said he had been informed of past infractions by Graceffo concerning the drug screening policy."There appeared to be a history of unwillingness [by Graceffo] to follow the drug and alcohol policy," he said of his decision to seek the vice principal's termination.School nurses testified last month that teachers and administrators, although suspecting drug use, often waited for the results of a cursory medical examination before requesting that a student be given a urinalysis.During cross-examination, Graceffo's attorney, Robert Schwartz, pointed out that Flower had violated the policy because he did not contact the nurse in addition to Graceffo and left Lucatorto unattended when he believed the teen was high.Schwartz also pointed out that although the policy requires that the student be examined by a physician, it is almost never followed in Wayne.Kwak said he thought a laboratory technician examining urine specimens counted as a substitute for a doctor.Schwartz additionally argued that Graceffo and Kwak had a difficult working relationship. He asked Kwak whether Graceffo's role as a negotiator for the local school administrator's association and arguments they had over class size led to hard feelings by Kwak. He said it did not.The hearings are scheduled to continue in January before Judge Mumtaz Bari-Brown.Earlier Thursday, Charles Tucker, former president of the local teachers union, testified that he had received complaints from teachers over the years that Graceffo was not requiring tests of students referred to him. "He felt he had leeway and felt he thought he needed leeway," Tucker said. "He thought every student should be treated differently."Tucker said Graceffo cared about students and was one of the top vice principals he had worked for in his 36 years in the district. When Schwartz asked him whether Graceffo served well in his position, Tucker paused and replied: "I don't think he tested students well."Published: December 10, 1999Copyright  1999 Bergen Record Corp. Related Articles:Teacher Says She's Been Ostracized Over Drug Test - 12/10/99 Explores Lapses in Drug Rules - 10/22/99
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