Drug incident worries parents Teacher's apparent overdose stirs some to question school policy

January 23, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Caitlin Francke and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

A North Laurel elementary school teacher who suffered an apparent drug overdose on campus is well-liked by students and parents, and Howard County school officials said yesterday he never showed any signs of addiction.

But some parents are questioning why the school system does not require prospective teachers to undergo drug testing and are upset that students may have been exposed to someone using drugs.

"My first reaction was I felt really sorry for him, but my next feeling was anger," said Denise Wesolowski, who has two children at the school. "I mean, bringing this stuff into the school? Some of the kids could have gotten hold of it."

The Laurel Woods Elementary teacher, Garrett M. Bradley, 28, was discovered unconscious last week in a school bathroom with drug paraphernalia and a substance police believe to be heroin, police said. Howard County school officials disclosed the incident Wednesday.

Relatives and friends of Bradley, a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teacher, are ashamed of and saddened by his actions but are supporting him as he begins recovery in an Anne Arundel County treatment center, a family member said yesterday.

"I think he is a wonderful teacher, but he has a horrible disease," said the family member, who asked not to be named.

Howard County school officials said they will await the results of a police investigation before they decide whether Bradley will return to the classroom.

After a hearing with School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, Bradley might be suspended or fired, said Patti Caplan, a Howard school spokeswoman.

The day after the Jan. 14 incident, police issued a warrant for Bradley's arrest on charges of misdemeanor drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession. He was expected to surrender to police late last night. If convicted, he faces up to four years in jail and a fine up to $25,000.

Parents of Laurel Woods Elementary students learned of the incident in a letter sent home with students Wednesday night. Although Bradley is popular among students and staff, some said they were shocked and furious.

Rehana Manejwala, whose 4-year-old daughter is in Bradley's pre-kindergarten class, said, "Of course there are concerns for safety. Because a school system, if it gets like that, it worries you, because you send your kids to school and you expect them to be safe. You leave them alone over there. It's worrying."

Some parents criticized Howard school system policies -- such as the lack of drug testing of prospective teachers -- for not having prevented the incident.

"I feel bad for the man, but my main question is, 'Do they do drug screening?' " asked Donna Cameron, whose daughter attends fourth grade at Laurel Woods. "I mean, I work at Wal-Mart and I have to go through drug screening. And if you're caught, you are immediately removed from any chance of getting a job. Why don't teachers have to do this?"

Teachers might undergo a drug test if there is "reasonable suspicion" of drug use, but teachers are not routinely tested before or during employment, according to Howard school policy.

There has been no discussion of requiring a drug test for teachers, Caplan said.

School bus drivers -- as required under federal law for operators of commercial vehicles -- are the only school employees who are tested for drug use before being hired, school officials said.

Baltimore City schools require new teachers to pass a drug test, but they are not regularly tested after being hired, said Janelle Fowlkes, a spokeswoman for city schools. Drug testing of teachers is unusual in Maryland, according to Ron Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Bradley's prekindergarten students, who have asked about him constantly and miss him, are making a card to send to him, Manejwala said.

Cameron's daughter, Brandi Barna, 9, said, "We all heard it was heroin. Everyone is talking about Mr. Bradley. We wrote letters in class about how we felt and what we thought."

The first-year teacher had been more closely observed than most teachers because he was part of a new pre-kindergarten program in Howard County schools, Caplan said. Even so, no problems or unusual absences were reported, she said.

Rosanne C. Wilson, principal at the school, said, "He is a well-regarded teacher who is good with his students. We have had no complaints."

Asked if there had been any indication of Bradley's substance abuse problem, Principal Rosanne C. Wilson said, "Of course not."

But one parent, who volunteers once a week in Bradley's kindergarten class, described the teacher as a strict disciplinarian who has "mood swings."

"We had problems with him," said Kevin Marks, whose 6-year-old son in is Bradley's kindergarten class. "There was no question he cared about the kids, but he was heavy on the discipline. It could be crushing to kids."

Teachers caught with alcohol or drugs on school grounds or at school events are immediately placed on medical leave pending further school action, according to Howard school policy.

"I am not aware of this type of thing taking place where there was evidence of drug use on school property," Caplan said. "Until we have all the facts from the Police Department and our investigation through the school, we don't know what will happen."

School PTA officials had not met to discuss the matter but would consider making a recommendation to the county Department of Education on Bradley's case once they have more facts, said Lisa Kawata, Laurel Woods PTA president.

"This is sad," Caplan said. "I think we need to remember to be compassionate about this. Obviously, these are concerns but also there are problems. We want to make sure he gets the help he needs."

Said Bradley's family member, "This is devastating for us. He has to face his consequences. He seems like he wants to recover."

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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