Drug testing: district must respect parents’ rights

I am writing to comment on the article that appeared in the June 2019 issue of Hopewell Express, Superintendent: First year of random drug testing a success (which we also published in Robbinsville in modified form as Robbinsville school district says new drug testing policy meant to help students).

First, the assertion that it had been successful is ridiculous: By what measure? Last year when Mr Smith pushed through this proposal over the objections of many parents, he told us there was a serious and increasing problem with drug use in the high school. So, a year later he should be able to provide data to show that the problem he claimed existed before is now better.

Can he produce that data?

No, he cannot. I have asked for it, but he has not been able to provide it. Instead, he offers up numbers of how many students have been caught up in this intrusive scheme.

So, shall we allow the police to stop us on the streets and search us for any reason? Shall we allow the police to enter our homes any time they wish to search? I bet after a year the police could deliver similar results and could similarly claim such a program to be a “success.”

I think most people would not accept this abuse of police power (including the people who wrote the United States Constitution who went out of their way to insert an amendment specifically to address it). Why do we think it’s OK so subject our children to the same abuse of power?

I’d also like to take the opportunity to clarify a few things about this entire endeavor.

In public forums, Dr. Smith stated that feedback had been roughly equally divided between people supporting and opposing. He failed to mention that many who wrote in support are employed by the school district and therefore their views cannot really be considered impartial. Even better, two of the “supporting” respondents he referenced were companies that provide testing services.

I obtained copies of all the comments submitted via an OPRA request, and it is false that opinion was equally divided, it was not.

The article also skirted around some very serious issues with this policy. It is a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.Mr Smith cited Joye vs Hunterdon High School as precedent. In that case, the school used a loophole that allows them to violate the Fourth Amendment by claiming it would apply only to students in “privilege” activities.

If 90 percent of the students have it, it’s not really a privilege. Second, these so-called privilege activities are paid for from our tax dollars. And even though the court allowed Hunterdon Central’s random drug testing program to continue, the court took pains to emphasize that its decision is “not to be construed as an automatic green light for schools wishing to replicate Hunterdon Central’s program.”

It is an egregious violation of our children’s rights and of our rights as parents. Drug testing is the parents’ role, not the school’s. The school has no right to usurp my rights in this way. If I believe my child should be tested, I will do it myself. For those parents who support this policy, why do they not test them themselves? Tests are easily available at all drug stores and even more cheaply online. It’s their right as a parent to test their own children if they want – and it’s my right as a parent to say no. The school has no right to test my child without my permission, the school board is way overstepping its boundaries.

In his public forums, Dr. Smith claimed that parents had asked him for help. So, I have a suggestion that would make everyone happy: Those parents who support it are free to surrender their children’s constitutional rights on their behalf, as is their right as the students’ guardians. Those of us who object can protect our children’s rights, and, most importantly, our rights as parents to make these decisions.

I asked Dr. Smith to consider this option to address the very serious concerns many parents expressed, but he declined to even entertain it. I guess he has no interest in respecting parents’ rights or our clearly articulated wishes.

Neal McGrath
Hopewell Township

Township committee must listen to the people

I attended the Hopewell Township Committee meeting on June 24, along with 100+ others, to hear about the proposed (now adopted) ordinance concerning the change of use at the Bristol-Myers Squibb campus. the meeting was an eye-opening experience that, I believe, every citizen of the township should be concerned about.

Mayor Kristin McLaughlin started the meeting with a short dissertation about the thoughtful consideration that went into crafting the proposed ordinance, including the consultation of real estate professionals and consulting engineers for guidance.

Immediately following that, the public comment period began. The comments expressed an array of concerns about the ordinance, including the fact that there had been no environmental study requested or performed, the language of the ordinance was broad and allowed uses contrary to the original master plan for the campus, and concerns over increased truck traffic that would spill over onto rural roads not intended for such heavy traffic.

One of the major concerns was that the notice and review of the ordinance was not transparent. Many direct neighbors were never made aware of the proposed change. Resident after resident requested that the vote be tabled until a more thorough, thoughtful review could be completed.

The members of the community in attendance were an impressive group of scientists, former BMS employees, attorneys, environmentalists, laypersons, and even the president of a pharmaceutical company, who advised that the preparation for this decision was incomplete and that it would be ill advised to bring it to vote without proper vetting.

After the public comment period was closed, a carefully orchestrated “dog and pony” show occurred. Unbeknownst to the public, the committee had invited representatives from Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate agents for BMS. From a purely marketing perspective, they described the concept of subdividing the space into condominiums. They explained that potential users of the property would include medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturing, bio-tech companies, and research laboratories.

Next, an engineering firm explained their conclusion that the natural conditions of the location and rural nature “would limit the likelihood of large-scale production.” They determined, based on unspecified standards from the Institute of Transportation Engineers and by speaking with representatives from BMS, that all of the potential deleterious effects of this ordinance could be mitigated through traffic control.

Finally, a representative from BMS explained their heartfelt concern about the effects of the community in the wake of their exodus.

After these three individuals spoke, it became pretty clear that these were the professionals the Township had consulted for guidance. The professionals were all vendors of BMS and clearly have a vested interest in the selling the property to the highest bidder. The fact that the township committee consulted these vendors, or rather were guided by these vendors, is either irresponsible, misguided, thoughtless, lazy or ignorant. You decide which.

After these professional presentations (which happened after the public comment period), there was no opportunity for questions or dialogue with the public. The public comment period was closed before the “facts” were presented. The meeting agenda contained no information that “professionals” were going to present additional information.

The citizens were understandably outraged: This led to a five-minute recess, that eventually turned into a 25-minute adjournment. When the meeting resumed, it was announced that the committee members had made a minor language change so that the ordinance was less broad to “appease” the participants in the meeting. They unanimously voted passage of the ordinance — discounting any environmental study, consultation with experts in the community, or engaging truly independent real estate advice.

I want to be clear: I am a realist. I accept that change is often necessary. I appreciate that BMS has been a good neighbor. I understand that a decision must be made in order to maintain the tax base. I empathize with the committee about how difficult it is to make thoughtful, balanced decisions, knowing you will never gain full consensus.

However, when a room full of well-informed citizens — their neighbors, friends, constituents, and clients — come forward with some serious questions regarding a study that was clearly done “on the fly” so that BMS could wrap up their involvement in the township, their alliances seem misplaced.

I strongly urge Hopewell residents to attend these meetings. I initially thought some of our neighbors had been exaggerating the condescending, self-serving nature of the board, now I am more inclined to stand with them after witnessing it for myself.

Michael Pressel
Hopewell Township

Most secretive township majority ever?

On June 3 at the Hopewell Township Committee meeting, Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger, Committee Member Blake and Committee member Kevin Kuchinski once again introduced an ordinance without reaching out to affected stakeholders beforehand. Sound familiar?

This time, the affected stakeholders were 105 residential users of the Washington Crossing Estates Water Utility. By paying graduated water rates, these residents pay for 100 percent of the costs of their community well at no cost to the township, which owns the utility. This time, Mayor McLaughlin and her majority, with John Hart in opposition, voted to start the process to put the 105 residential water utility users into significant debt with a $332,000 bond ordinance without any prior community outreach.

Before that, on March 25, they placed on their agenda a township ordinance to slam some 9,000 residential electrical users into energy aggregation without any prior community outreach whatsoever.

Before that, they planned to make dramatic changes to the Diverty Road neighborhood without any prior community outreach whatsoever. Before that, they signed affordable housing contracts pertaining to the largest development in the history of Hopewell Township by allowing 3,534 residences to be built in the next eight years without any prior community outreach.

Apparently, the basic concept of representative government is simply beyond the understanding of Mayor McLaughlin, Deputy Mayor Ruger, Committee Member Blake and Committee Member Kuchinski.

Harvey Lester