Fault Lines
19 October 2017

Texas Teachers Learns Reefer Stupidity

January 26, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Maryam Roland of El Paso, TX, has been a high school science teacher since 2008. Unfortunately, she worked in the same building as a crazy person.

On February 18, 2015, Olaya Calanehe, a then-former bookkeeping clerk for the District, sent an email” to the District alleging that “Mr. Villareal,” a Parkland teacher, was “the distributer . . . always has cocaine on him , . . on campus.” This statement in the email was followed by a series of names of employees at Parkland, and added the words “every payday both monthly and semi[-]monthly.” The email did not say what, if anything, the listed people had done. Ms. Calanche continued, in the rambling email, to say that her son had tried to kill her because “god told him I had demons” and that one of the named employees “removed a student because she was the devil.”

Any concern that Calanche was an untrustworthy source of information was dispelled by her sign-off:

Ms. Calanche ended the email by reporting that she “no longer [did] cocaine . . , ecstasy, or marijuana.”

While the initial email didn’t mention Roland, Calanche sent a second email and made a follow-up phone call, in which Roland was implicated. Roland was called into an interview, where she admitted that she had consumed a marijuana edible…over Christmas break, in Colorado, where recreational use of the wacky tabacky is legal.

She submitted to breath, urine, hair tests. The breath test showed negative for alcohol, the urine test indicated no recent marijuana, but the hair test (marijuana metabolites can remain in hair for several months) came up positive, consistent with use over Christmas break. She also admitted that she had used marijuana in college.

That’s. About. It.

Respondent denied ever selling, buying, possessing, consuming, or being under the influence of any illicit drug or alcohol while on District property, during work hours, or during a school-related activity. She has never been convicted of or arrested for any criminal offense, Respondent testified, without contradiction, that she was told during the February 20, 2015 testing that the sample of her hair would be tested for drug use three to six months earlier. There is no evidence to contradict Respondent‘s testimony on these points.

Mr. Lahrman [a school district official] testified that, aside from the emails he received from Ms. Calanche, he had no reason to believe Respondent had ever consumed an illicit drug, while on duty or elsewhere. He had no reason to think Respondent was under the influence of alcohol or any drug when he interviewed her or at any other time while she was at school or a school-related activity. He confirmed that Respondent had not previously been disciplined or investigated by the District for misconduct.

So why is this even a thing? For starters, the legal procedure Roland is involved in isn’t a criminal case but a professional licensing issue. Based on Roland’s consumption of the devil’s weed, the Texas Education Agency moved to suspend her teaching license for two years, alleging that she violated district policy, violated law, and was “unworthy to instruct” students.

William Newchurch, the Administrative Law Judge hearing the case, recommended against convicting Roland for any of the three allegations. One policy she was accused of violating forbade being under the influence while on duty (which she wasn’t); another forbade positive drug tests that were “random,” post-accident,” or ordered as the result of a “reasonable suspicion.” The test was not after an accident, and the test was hardly random, which leaves reasonable suspicion. The ALJ held that any suspicion was not reasonable:

At the time, the only information Mr. Lahnnan had concerning Respondent were the emails from Ms, Calanche. The first email, on February 18, 2016, did not even mention Respondent. Also, it showed that Ms. Calanche was not a reliable source of information. The first email was disjointed, rambling, and incoherent. It suggested that Ms. Calanche was paranoid and delusional, because she stated she was scared for her life and referred to the devil and demons. Further undermining her credibility, Ms, Calanche admitted in the first email that she had abused cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana in the past.

The second email from Ms. Calanche, on February 20, 2016, gave Respondent’s name, but said nothing else about Respondent. It did not even indicate it was related to the first email. In the absence of more information, there was no reasonable basis for the District to consider the emails together. Mr. Lahrman testified that he understood that Ms. Calanche had implicated Respondent during a telephone call to another District employee, but could not say which District employee had participated in the call. Under these circumstances, his understanding that Respondent was implicated was not reasonable.

Translation: crazy emails and crazy phone calls from crazy people do not constitute reasonable suspicion, even in non-criminal settings.

The allegation that Roland had violated the law was dispatched even more easily, since there was no allegation that Roland had broken any Texas law; and anything she did in Colorado was legal. That left the “unworthy to instruct” allegation.

“Unworthy to instruct” is a much more nebulous concept. It’s basically a catch-all for the licensing authority to punish someone for doing something that isn’t technically illegal, but is nevertheless serious enough that society wouldn’t want this person around kids.[1] If the ALJ wanted to drop the hammer, he could have. Instead, he held:

The ALJ does not conclude that Respondent is unworthy to instruct because she legally consumed marijuana in Colorado Possession of a usable quantity of marijuana is a criminal offense in Texas, but so is gambling.” The ALJ would not recommend that the Board find a teacher unworthy to instruct in Texas because she legally gambled in Nevada. Similarly, he does not recommend that the Board find Respondent unworthy to instruct because she legally consumed marijuana in Colorado.

Exactly right. It doesn’t do the State of Texas, Maryam Roland, or her present and future students any good whatsoever to punish her for perfectly legal conduct that she engaged in on her vacation. This isn’t the end of the matter, as the ALJ’s findings can be accepted or rejected by the agency, and either side can appeal the decision to the district. That said, this is apparently a  first-time-ever result in Texas. Progress.

[1] The equivalent for lawyers is “character and fitness;” for police it’s “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

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