Hernando teacher who admitted to marijuana use gets job back after all
BROOKSVILLE -- The Hernando health and physical education teacher who admitted to smoking marijuana earlier this year pleaded Tuesday night for mercy from the School Board and got his job back – again.
Michael Provost, the 38-year-old former health and physical education teacher at Parrott Middle School who has been on unpaid suspension since March, will be reinstated and assigned to the STAR Education Center after a 4 to 1 vote by the board.
The board had agreed in October to reinstate Provost but reneged after he expressed displeasure about his assignment to STAR in a St. Petersburg Times story published last month. Provost told the Times he thought the district had created the physical education position at the district’s alternative school to further punish him. Read more of the backstory here.
On Tuesday, he told the board his comments had been taken out of context and that he didn’t know enough about the assignment at the time.
“I spoke in the heat of the moment without thinking,” Provost said, reading prepared remarks that lasted nearly 10 minutes. “The media got to me before I could get all the facts and think things through. Given the opportunity, I would be honored to work at STAR or any place in this district.”
Provost, who is married with two young sons, apologized to STAR's students, staffers and to the board. He said he’s been publicly humiliated, is near bankruptcy and would likely lose his home if fired.
“Please don’t take my house from me, and please don’t end my career over this,” said Provost, who ran down his achievements as a teacher that included leading two anti-drug programs. “I ask you please give me the chance to prove myself. I feel like the good things I have done in the district for the last seven years are worth something.”
Provost’s attorney, Mark Herdman of Clearwater, told the board the compromise reached in October – that Provost would pay for random drug screenings for the next three years, get back pay starting from the beginning of the school year, and not return to Parrott – was still a good one. Going back on the pact now would mean a battle in an appeals court that could cost the district “to the tune of $100,000 or so,” Herdman said.
During discussion before Tuesday's vote, however, only Chairman Pat Fagan said he was worried about a protracted legal battle. He reminded board members that an administrative law judge had already recommended the district reinstate Provost. The judge said that firing him for a first offense without giving him the chance to enroll in a drug rehabilitation program would violate the state’s drug-free workplace law and the district’s own policy.
Board members were more concerned about bringing back a teacher who they said insulted the teachers and students at STAR and hadn’t learned his lesson. Last month, all but Fagan had voted to go back on the deal.
Provost’s speech Tuesday changed minds, though.
“Personally, I believe you and believe you can make a difference,” board member James Yant said.
Board member John Sweeney asked Provost before the vote if he felt he’d been wronged by the district and was satisfied with his answer: “I take responsibility for my actions.”
“Though he gave an eloquent rundown of his accomplishments, that one brief statement meant more,” Sweeney said.
Only board member Dianne Bonfield, who brought a copy of the Times story to the board meeting last month, refused to change her stance.
“I find that people when put into a situation can certainly recant and can recant very well…almost to the point where it is a wonderful actor doing a wonderful job to try to bring things to culmination so they can receive what they feel is justice,” Bonfield said.
Board member Sandra Nicholson wavered before the vote, hesitating to send Provost to STAR, but ultimately voted in the majority.
As part of the revised agreement, Provost will only be paid from the start of the school year to Nov. 17, the date the board decided to reject the compromise. He could start by the end of the week.
Nicholson told Provost to lead the district’s at-risk students by example.
“What I’m expecting of you is that you’re going to show these kids that they can get their lives together,” she said. “People will give you a second chance if you own up to your mistakes and don’t make those mistakes again.”
After the meeting, Provost shook each board member’s hand and thanked them. He told a reporter, “No comment.”
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.