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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Teaching While Intoxicated: Two Cases

Case 1: Ankeny, Iowa
      Jennifer Lynn Rich began teaching in 2001 at the East Elementary School in Ankeny, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines. On Friday February 13, 2015, the 40-year-old teacher and the mother of one of her students were overseeing a St. Valentine's Day party for Rich's kindergarten class. At two that afternoon the parent-helper called the local police department and reported the presence of a can of beer in Rich's classroom.

     A police officer showed up at the school and entered the kindergarten teacher's classroom. (I presume the kids had been dismissed by now.) Inside a leather bag the officer found six cans of Busch Light beer. Two of the beers had been recently consumed. Jennifer Rich's eyes were bloodshot and she had alcohol on her breath.

     Suspecting that the teacher was intoxicated, the police officer administered an on-site breath test that confirmed that she had recently consumed an alcoholic beverage. (A blood analysis later revealed a blood-alcohol percentage double the legal limit for driving in the state.)

     A local prosecutor charged the kindergarten teacher with one count of public intoxication and one count of child endangerment. School officials placed Rich on paid administrative leave. Not long after her arrest she resigned from the East Elementary School.

Case 2: Marshallville, Iowa

     Carissa Bryant taught sixth grade at the Lenihan Intermediate school in Marshalltown, Iowa, a small town 60 miles northeast of Des Moines. On March 4, 2015, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Steve Hoffman was at the elementary school presenting a substance abuse program. When he encountered the 33-year-old teacher he smelled alcohol on her breath and noticed that her eyes were red and that she was slurring her words.

     Deputy Hoffman took Carissa Bryant into custody and booked her into the Marshall County Jail on the misdemeanor charge of public intoxication. A blood-alcohol test placed her alcoholic content at .190 percent. In Iowa .08 percent is the threshold limit for driving under the influence.

     The elementary school teacher posted her $300 bail and was released from custody. The school principal placed Bryant on paid administrative leave.

A National Problem?

     These two teachers were caught drinking on the job because outsiders just happened to be in the schools at the right time. Because there is no national databank on how many public school teachers are fired every year for this kind of behavior, there is no way to know if this is a serious problem. One thing we do know, however, is that misbehaving teachers are rarely fired.

     Only one in 1,000 public school teachers are dismissed for performance related reasons. In the legal profession that number is one in 97 and in medicine, one in 57.

     Under these circumstances it is reasonable to suspect that classroom drinking is a problem made worse by the fact public school teachers are protected against dismissal by tenure and teacher unions.

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