Top of Utah school districts to teachers: Enter rehab before arrest, conviction

Feb 10 2013 - 7:56am

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Claudia Reaney
Claudia Reaney

Teachers who enter rehab for substance abuse issues are less likely to lose their job than teachers arrested for being under the influence or possessing an illegal drug, officials say.

"We do know people have issues in their lives and that some people need assistance," said Christopher Williams, community relations director for Davis School District.

"It is always better for them to seek professional help than getting caught by law enforcement and jeopardizing their jobs because they didn't take care of it sooner."

The majority of the district's 3,000-plus teachers are "awesome teachers who we don't have to worry about getting themselves" in situations like what recently happened at Buffalo Elementary School in Syracuse, Williams said.

Third-grade teacher Claudia Reaney, 49, was booked into Davis County Jail on Jan. 31 on one second-degree felony count of possession of a controlled substance.

She has since been released and the Davis County Attorney's Office is reviewing the case for formal charges.

Reaney is on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of her case, Williams said.

Brenda Ruffier, human resources director with Ogden School District, said all districts are required by law to report to the Utah Professional Advisory Commission any teacher or educator who has been arrested.

The commission reviews the case and determines if the license should be suspended or revoked.

"I think teachers should be held to a higher standard because they are in front of very impressionable students, no matter their age, whether it is a kindergarten class or senior high school students," Williams said.

"(Teachers) do know they will be held to a higher standard when they enter the field, just like policemen and firefighters."

Under state law, school districts can put people who have been arrested on paid administrative leave, terminate their position or allow them back to work, Ruffier said.

But it is a safe bet that teachers, once convicted, especially on a felony charge, will lose their job and possibly their teaching license, Ruffier said.

However, those educators who report that they need help stand a chance of keeping their job, district officials said.

"We want to support them and get the problem taken care of," Ruffier said.

Not every person who illegally uses drugs ends up in court, said Deputy Davis County Attorney Rick Westmoreland. The key is for those who have an addiction problem to get help before they end up with legal troubles, Westmoreland said.

"This could happen in my profession, in your profession, in any profession," he said. "Society is losing some of the best in every profession because they are not seeking help."

Mike Kelly, spokesman for the Utah Education Association, said every district has a different policy when it comes to teachers reporting they are getting help for a substance abuse problem, whether it is for alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs.

"Just because a teacher discloses they have a problem does not necessarily mean it is an employment violation," he said.

But every district prohibits teachers from using any substance, unless it is a valid prescription, while at school.

Teachers deserve due process before they are terminated, and the UEA is always concerned that a teacher's rights are protected, he said.

Dr. Todd Soutor, with Davis Behavioral Health Inc., said substance abuse does not discriminate. "Substance abuse affects every family in every walk of life and is present in every culture, every religion and every career field."

Depending on the severity of the addiction, help can include educational classes, outpatient therapy, day programs and inpatient substance abuse treatment.

The programs also deal with dual issues, such as a substance abuse addiction and a mental health issue, he said.

Anyone who needs help can call the Davis Behavioral Health Inc. clinic's 24-hour crisis line at 801-773-7060.

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