Official Defends Drug Test Decision 

Official Defends Drug Test Decision 
Posted by FoM on February 29, 2000 at 08:14:12 PT
By Scott Fallon, Staff Writer
Source: Bergen Record
A Wayne vice principal facing termination for failing to automatically order a drug test from a suspect student took the stand at a hearing Monday and vehemently defended his decision.Joseph Graceffo reinforced testimony by other school administrators that it was the practice in Wayne public schools to drug test a student only if a nurse concluded the student could be high or a staff member specifically asked for a screening.
"If there is any evidence to suggest that student is under the influence, then we would test," said Graceffo during his five hours of testimony Monday. "But if there is no evidence and a teacher doesn't ask for a test, then we just don't test."Testimony has revealed that a Wayne Hills High School teacher came to Graceffo in January 1999 with only suspicions of marijuana use and not a request for a test, and that Graceffo then consulted school medical staff and the boy's mother.The boy, 11th-grader Nicolas Lucatorto, died two weeks later of heroin use while at a party. That death was followed by a tightening of the school drug policy that one administrator portrayed as "zero tolerance." Graceffo was suspended pending trial in administative court.The district says an administrator must automatically order a urinalysis from a student suspected of drug use under its drug policy. Whether discretion can be used is at the heart of the case; witnesses have testified that many staffers were reluctant to order testing and would await results of a cursory medical exam.If a teacher asks for a test to be conducted, Graceffo said he would automatically do so. "That basically sets the policy in motion," said Graceffo.The hearing was to continue today. If Administrative Law Judge Mumtaz Bari-Brown finds Graceffo violated policy, his fate would be up to the state commissioner of education.In October, Susan Ammerman, a physical education teacher at Wayne Hills, testified that on Jan. 21, 1999, she smelled marijuana on Lucatorto and noticed that his pupils were dilated. Ammerman reported her findings to Graceffo.Two school nurses who examined the boy later testified that his eyes were normal and he smelled only of cigarette smoke. Graceffo, who was aware that Lucatorto had been ill with the flu and was on prescription medication, phoned the teen's mother to tell her about the incident and decided against ordering a urinalysis."There was no smell," said Graceffo, who has worked as a district teacher and administrator for more than 30 years. "I did not smell it. Two other people told me they did not smell it. There was nothing there that [would lead] me to test."The two nurses "checked Nicholas out, and everything was normal," he said.Graceffo said he often went beyond what the district drug policy requires when he would contact parents of students who were referred but determined not to be under the influence."It's very important to have a parent aware of what's going on in class and school," he said.On cross examination, board attorney Steven Fogarty bombarded Graceffo with questions pertaining to a 1991 incident in which a student assistance specialist asked Graceffo to test a student who had just barged out of Graceffo's office and knocked items off a desk.Graceffo said the student had become agitated over an argument the two had had and that he declined to test him even though he was asked to. The student specialist "was an observer from afar," he said. "She did not know why that student was upset."In December, that same student assistance specialist, Victoria Musetti, provided some of the strongest testimony against Graceffo when she detailed four instances in which Graceffo either did not order a screening for students suspected of drug use or delayed it.Graceffo testifed that he viewed drug testing as a "therapeutic" device intended to help troubled youngsters. He said Musetti treated screening with a "gotcha" mentality trying to punish wrongdoers.Musetti was unavailable for comment Monday night.Defense witnesses have intimated that Graceffo's current troubles stem from friction between him and other administrators. Graceffo testified that he had heated exchanges with Superintendent Ray Kwak over the years on everything from class size to negotiations with the principal's union.Graceffo testified that he had never received formal criticism on the way he handled the district's drug policy during annual evaluations by his superiors.Newark:Published: February 29, 2000Copyright  2000 Bergen Record Corp. Related Articles:Drug Test Was A Must, Schools Chief Testifies Says She's Been Ostracized Over Drug Test
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Comment #1 posted by StoneWolf on February 29, 2000 at 16:37:31 PT:
I commend Graceffo for his fight to protect our 4th Admendment Rights! Being a member of the legal community, I applaud anyone who protects our precious constitution! As for Musetti? Take the laws into your own hands and we will see how deep those pockets of yours are.
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