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Drug-use teacher failed school, students, but has right to return

Michael Provost is a hypocrite. The Parrott Middle School health teacher, who used to teach drug prevention and headed a student anti-drug club, is suspended after acknowledging recreational marijuana use off campus.

But hypocrisy is not a firing offense, and the Hernando School Board shouldn't follow a recommendation from the school board attorney and interim superintendent to dismiss Provost. More appropriately, it should consider the nonbinding ruling of an impartial administrative law judge who said the district didn't have the legal authority to fire Provost because it is a de facto state agency and must follow appropriate state law.

Florida's Drug Free Workplace Act, which excludes police officers and firefighters, prohibits state employers from terminating workers upon an initial positive drug test unless the employee forgoes an opportunity to participate in a substance-abuse program. In this instance, Provost agreed to a drug test and entered an employee assistance program after being confronted in March by principal Leechelle Booker about suspected marijuana use.

He has been on unpaid suspension since and appealed to the administrative judge after former superintendent Wayne Alexander recommended his firing. Despite the ruling from Administrative Judge P. Michael Ruff, School Board attorney Paul Carland and interim superintendent Sonya Jackson still recommend termination.

Carland contends the school district is exempt from the drug-free law because it is not a state agency. Granted, there are conflicting rulings on district autonomy, but it shouldn't be a matter of convenience to pick and choose when to follow state laws.

Among other things, the school district's funding, tax rate, curriculum requirements, standardized testing rules and school grades are established in Tallahassee by legislators and the Department of Education. The state mandates which day to teach the Constitution, how much weekly recess time students must have and even the size of the American flag to be displayed in every classroom. Nearly everything about the public school system in Florida is driven from the top down with local districts given the chores of implementing the state requirements while negotiating teacher salaries, building schools and balancing their annual budgets. To suggest an individual school district is anything but an agency of the state government is unreasonable.

Evan absent that argument, the Hernando School Board should consider the message it would be sending to all its employees if it fires a teacher who volunteered information about his marijuana use, agreed to a drug test and sought help via the employee assistance program. It's akin to telling others to hide their problems instead of seeking help because the consequences are unforgiving.

There is no doubt Provost has damaged his credibility, but the district should give him an opportunity to return to teach. His initial lesson plan should include sharing first-person accounts with middle school students about the aftermath of his own reckless personal choices.

Drug-use teacher failed school, students, but has right to return 10/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 10:40am]
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