Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Hernando teacher who got second chance after showing up drunk resigns

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County middle school teacher who was given a second chance to work in the district after showing up to work drunk has resigned after failing to meet the terms of an agreement.

Erin Cougill, a language arts teacher at West Hernando Middle School, didn't meet the terms of the stipulation agreement by Aug. 1, according to district spokesman Eric Williams.

The agreement stated that Cougill needed to be evaluated by an addiction or abuse expert and had to complete any programs or requirements recommended by the expert. She also agreed to random drug or alcohol tests for the 2014-15 school year and acknowledged that the district could take further action against her after the findings of the state's Education Practices Commission.

On Dec. 11, Cougill was drunk on duty, school officials said. She showed signs of impairment, including slurred speech, stumbling and incoherent conversation. There were reports of erratic behavior and having an inappropriate conversation with a student.

School administrators ordered a "reasonable suspicion" test that showed Cougill's blood-alcohol level was well above 0.08 percent, the point at which a motorist is presumed impaired in Florida.

After a district investigation, superintendent Lori Romano recommended that Cougill be terminated.

Cougill, 48, quickly appealed the decision. Before the investigation was finished, she said she attended two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and did some serious soul searching.

Faced with the possibility of losing a legal battle and in spite of lingering concerns, the Hernando School Board approved an agreement in June allowing Cougill to keep her job.

Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said that, historically, administrative judges have looked favorably on employees who have made a good-faith effort to address their problems. In cases involving some mitigating factors, the judge will often find there isn't "just cause" and rule against the district, he said.

"(The Division of Administrative Hearings) is not always as affected by a violation of policy," he said. "They're a bit more forgiving than a board is. On a whole, they're more in favor of giving an employee a second chance than the board would be."

Alfonso told board members it wasn't a question of whether the board had the authority to punish the teacher, but rather "whether it would be a prudent investment of time and money" to do so.

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