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Few local school bus drivers fail random drug tests

Failed drug tests in the last five years
2: Drivers out of 115 failed a random drug test in Gainesville, according to Gainesville City Schools.
0: Drivers out of 550 failed a random drug test in Hall County, according to Hall County Schools.
29: Drivers out of 10,500 failed random drug test throughout 50 Ga. counties since 2009, according to FirstLab.

Safety for students is a priority for school officials - it's preached in school systems throughout the nation.
But that safety is not just monitored when students roam the hallways. It begins and ends each day on schools buses.

There are more than 30,000 students who attend Gainesville and Hall County schools and a large percentage of those ride the bus to and from school 180 days a year - some more.

It's a part of the day that is sometimes overlooked. But transportation departments monitor their buses and especially their bus drivers closely.

Both local school systems employ just more than 300 full-time and substitute bus drivers and, according to federal law, at least half of those drivers must be randomly drug tested throughout the year.

Georgia requires those who fail those tests to be terminated immediately.

Both Gainesville and Hall school systems screen 50 percent of their drivers annually, and, in the past five years, have had very few fail.

According to Gainesville City Schools, there have been two drivers to fail the drug screen over the last five years. Both were terminated immediately.

Hall County Schools reported only one positive test since the policy was put in place in 1995. That test was in 2001. They also reported one refusal in 2005.

Both, they say, were terminated.

"People are aware that we are on top of the drug screening policy," said Jerry Castleberry, Gainesville's transportation director. "It's always in front of them."
Dr. David Hocker at Primary Care Clinics is the medical review officer for both the city and the county.

He said the school systems "are in strict compliance with all mandated testing," but would not go into detail about testing numbers, citing confidentiality for clients.

Federal requirements mandate testing for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates and phencyclidine.
The state, however, does not keep a report of how many drivers fail the screening.

"It's a federal requirement, and the law says if you test positive for drugs then you're terminated. So it's really immaterial for us to know," said Carlton Allen, Georgia director for pupil transportation.

Employers, in this case the school systems, per federal law, must keep records of failed or refused tests for five years.

Allen believes, through talking with local directors, the positive tests throughout the state have risen in the last two years, mainly due to the struggling economy.

FirstLab, a third-party test site for 50 Georgia counties screens bus drivers for those school systems.

According to information they provided to Allen, from 2009 to today, they have screened more than 10,500 drivers: 29 of them have failed, or less than 1 percent.

In 2011, the lab reported 12 positive tests, compared to five in 2010 and 10 in 2009.

Hall County executive director of operations Jewel Armour said the county has not had an issue with failed tests mainly because of their screening policy.

Before hiring, applicants' motor vehicle and criminal records are checked, there also is a rigorous reference check and training program.

Armour said they only interview about 30 percent of applicants.

"We do a pretty good job of screening people when we hire them," he said.

Applicants are immediately removed from consideration if they have a former drug charge or a child-related arrest.
Castleberry said Gainesville bus drivers are constantly reminded throughout the year about the policy.

"We just don't (remind drivers) at the beginning of the school year and forget it," he said. "We try to be proactive with it and we talk about it."

They screen drivers year-round.

Both systems require same-day testing of drivers if their names are drawn in the random pool.

Drivers are also tested if transportation officials have "reasonable suspicion" they're using drugs or alcohol, or if there is an accident in which a fatality occurred.

Bus drivers also are tested if they receive a moving violation citation and someone is injured or a vehicle needs to be towed away from the scene.

Castleberry said a driver, earlier this year, had an accident around 6:30 a.m. and was at the clinic getting tested at 8:30 that same morning. He was back on the job just after lunch.

"It's a small piece of what we do, but it's probably one of the most important pieces," he said.

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