An estimated 8,000 Maryland school bus drivers face mandatory drug testing starting next July, under a regulation approved yesterday by the state Board of Education.
But the plan faces a likely lawsuit from the public employees union that represents bus drivers in several Baltimore-area jurisdictions and throughout the state.
Drivers currently are covered by a patchwork of regulations, depending on whether they work for local governments or private fleets, and whether they drive across state lines. Maryland has about 5,500 school buses, about half of them public and half with private fleets, said Richard Alexander, an official with the Department of Education.
The situation is muddied by the fact that some local jurisdictions -- Baltimore County and Montgomery County among them -- have their own drug-testing requirements.
In all, Mr. Alexander estimated, the new regulation applies to about 8,000 regular, substitute and newly hired bus drivers, only half of whom would be covered under current regulations.
The rule requires a pre-employment urinalysis for every prospective bus driver. If the test reveals evidence of illicit drug use, the candidate is permanently barred from driving a school bus in Maryland, Mr. Alexander said.
At the same time, local school systems will be required to randomly test half of their drivers annually for illicit drug use. Anyone who flunks the test will be permanently banned from driving a school bus.
Barbara Neustadt of the Maryland School Bus Contractors Association said her group supports the regulations.
But an official with a major public employees union said that random testing of existing drivers is a violation of collective bargaining provisions in union contracts.
"We will challenge it in court," said Glen Middleton, executive director of Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. His group represents more than 1,400 public school bus drivers throughout the state.