Forget zero tolerance. Bay City Public School teachers for years could be caught repeatedly under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol without being fired.
Teachers in possession or under the influence of illegal drugs could be caught three times before they lost their job, and they got five strikes if they were drunk on school grounds before being fired. A school district official said the language in the union contract that protects teachers for those instances "was incorporated into the teacher Master Agreement in 1997."
Those protections also were included in the Bay City Education Association teacher’s contract that was agreed to in January in section 16.1300 "Controlled Substances" on page 92. That contract expired June 30 and negotiations on a new contract are ongoing.
Students weren’t given as many chances. The code of conduct for middle school and high school students states that if they are found to be under the influence or in possession of illegal drugs, they get a 5-day suspension or a 3-day suspension with counseling on the first offense.
A teacher caught selling drugs in class would get a 3-day suspension without pay with mandatory counseling, but wouldn’t be fired unless the teacher did it a second time.
"They must have had been high to approve that contract because no sober person would agree to that kind of policy," said Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance. "The role models are held to a lower standard than the students. That just sends a horrible message. If anything is indicative of how far school boards are willing to bend to kiss the rings of union leaders, this is it.
"That is an absolute disgrace," he said.
The provision of the teachers' contract that allowed up to five strikes for being under the influence of alcohol and three strikes for being under the influence of illegal drugs before being fired was ruled as unenforceable by Public Act 103 in July 2011. However, the union contract states that if Public Act 103 is struck down, the policy goes back into effect for teachers.
The union contract states that the provisions remain in "full force and affect" for bargaining unit members not subject to the Teachers Tenure Act, which would include job titles such as librarians, guidance counselors, school psychologists, social workers and school nurses.
Bay City Superintendent Doug Newcombe said only a handful of employees are still covered by the contract language.
"From my point of view, that practice has already ended," Newcombe said. "We are not going to apply that language."
Newcombe said the district has not had a situation involving illegal drugs or alcohol arise with a teacher but that district officials would handle each incident on a case-by-case basis.
However, Newcombe would not say that the union protection for teachers who were under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol would be excluded from the union contract that is being negotiated now.
"I'm not going to speak to ongoing contract negotiations at all," he said. "What we would like to do is be uniform with how we handle things and I’ll leave it at that."
The student code of conduct states that the district shall contact local law enforcement authorities if a student is found to be under the influence or in possession of illegal drugs. The teacher’s contract doesn’t have such a stipulation.
Under terms of the contract, teachers found under the influence of alcohol would get a written reprimand on the first offense. On second offense, teachers would get a 3-day suspension without pay and with mandatory counseling. On the third offense, teachers would get a 5-day suspension without pay and with mandatory counseling. On the fourth offense, the penalty was a 10-day suspension without pay and with mandatory counseling. The fifth offense meant termination. A teacher could be fired if she or he didn’t participate in the counseling.
For illegal drugs, the first offense was a written reprimand and mandatory counseling. The second offense was a three-day suspension without pay. The third offense was termination.
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