BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando School Board is headed toward a compromise with the Parrott Middle School health teacher who admitted to and tested positive for marijuana use last March.
The board, during a special meeting Tuesday, reached a consensus on a deal with Michael Provost that would keep him employed by the district, though the agreement still has to be approved by a formal vote at the board's Nov. 17 meeting.
If that happens, Provost will be reinstated and placed in a health or physical education instructional position at another school this year. He will receive back pay from the start of the current school year.
He would have to undergo a formal drug evaluation and follow whatever recommendations are made by health professionals. He also agreed to random drug tests for the next three years.
Provost, 37, admitted to drug use in March after being confronted by Parrott principal Leechelle Booker, who told him about a phone call she received from a woman who said she witnessed Provost smoking marijuana. He agreed to a drug test and enrolled in an employee assistance program.
Then-superintendent Wayne Alexander recommended Provost be fired.
Provost appealed and got a hearing in June. Early last month, Judge P. Michael Ruff recommended the School Board reinstate Provost, who has been on unpaid suspension since March, and pay him back wages and benefits. The board did not have legal grounds to fire Provost because state statutes and the district's personnel policy prohibit termination for a first positive drug test, Ruff wrote in the recommendation.
School Board attorney Paul Carland said the judge had misinterpreted case law and recommended that the board follow interim superintendent Sonya Jackson's direction to fire Provost anyway.
Provost's attorney, Mark Herdman of Clearwater, told the board Tuesday that going against the judge's recommendation undermines the process, forcing the School Board to essentially act as judges and reach opinions based on complex legal arguments.
"That's what you hire the judge for," Herdman said.
At least two board members, Dianne Bonfield and James Yant, were poised to fire Provost.
"In education, we take on a higher responsibility because we're dealing with the minds of youngsters. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard," Bonfield said.
She turned to Provost and reminded him that the use of drugs was his decision.
"That's certainly a choice you would never want your students to choose," she said. "Yet you are their role model."
Board member Sandra Nicholson recommended a compromise. The two attorneys came to the agreement along with Jackson during a recess.
"I just think that this is the best we can do for the employee, and it's also protecting our students and making sure to the best of our ability this will never happen again," Nicholson said.
Provost, who had argued that the district was being too harsh and not taking into account his qualities as a teacher, appeared visibly relieved after Tuesday's meeting.
"Like I said, there needs to be consequences, and there will be," he said. "This is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I'm going to keep my chin up and do my best to fix my wrongs. I redeem myself by doing my job."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.