LACEY – As recently reported in the Asbury Park Press August 28th, Lacey Superintendent of Schools, Craig Wigley, has proposed the implementation of mandatory drug screens for all new school hires. Such news brought me back to the 1980s when John Walsh (former host of America’s Most Wanted) led a national campaign to end child abduction.
Mr. Walsh was personally invested in this campaign as his son, Adam, had been abducted and murdered in Florida in 1981. At the time, I was working as a detective and advocate for children’s rights—a position that afforded me the opportunity to meet Mr. Walsh. Meeting Mr. Walsh inspired me and my then partner, Detective Kevin Fitzpatrick, to create the first New Jersey Commission on Missing and Exploited Children. This commission was modeled after similar initiatives in Kentucky, spearheaded by then-Kentucky Attorney General Mitch McConnell. I flew to Kentucky and appeared on their statewide television channel to interview Attorney General McConnell-an interview that went awry rather quickly. It struck me as quite absurd that Attorney General McConnell had issued a plethora of bills calling for voluntary fingerprinting of school personnel as a way to protect children from convicted child molesters. I wondered why was this not a mandatory directive.
New Jersey Must Learn From Kentucky’s Mistake
Why was Kentucky allowing individuals, some of whom may have had convicted child molestation charges, to voluntarily choose to get finger printed? When asked about this on live television in front of a full audience, Attorney General McConnell paused momentarily and then simply commented, “Well, we just don’t do that.” A commercial break quickly occurred before viewers could see the baffled look on not only my face, but also that of the entire audience. But there was a silver lining to this awkward and distasteful interaction with the Attorney General. Shortly after the interview concluded and I was exiting the auditorium, I was approached by staff members from Mr. Walsh’s office. They informed me that Mr. Walsh wanted to meet me in person regarding this question I had asked the Attorney General as well as inquire about my willingness to serve on his national commission for missing and exploited children. Stunned and honored, I accepted Mr. Walsh’s invitation, which involved me lobbying to New Jersey legislators to pass a bill mandating mandatory fingerprinting of all New Jersey school personnel.
Over the years, I learned that being a champion for children’s rights in New Jersey, unfortunately, invited more enemies than I expected. I met with one of the heads of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and questioned the genuineness of the NJEA’s local billboards that advertised “NJEA cares about your children.” I remember asking her, “How can you advertise your care for children and, yet, oppose mandatory fingerprinting of New Jersey teachers?”
Her answer continues to shock me to this day. She replied, “Our job is to protect our membership.” No mention of the kids.
Wigley Shouldn’t Give In To Pressure From The Unions
My hope is that Superintendent Wigley can press past the potential backlash from schools and teachers’ unions regarding his directive and move forward with its implementation. Perhaps under his leadership, Lacey can serve as a model for Ocean County with respect to teacher drug testing.
I attempted, more recently, to propose a similar measure that would have required random drug screens on all teachers, police, and first responders twice annually. Unfortunately, this idea was quickly shut down by local health systems stakeholders for reasons that still evade me. As a licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor, I perform random urine drug screens regularly. The cost of a kit is relatively low, with prices running $5 dollars, with specimens sent out and results received within 48 hours.
I knew it in the 1980’s and this old adage still holds true today: “We are all only as sick as our secrets.”