JONESBOROUGH, TN (WJHL) – Not only did a Jonesborough Elementary School teacher put her students at risk by showing up to work under the influence, she previously left her students unsupervised on multiple occasions, placed them in danger and allowed her third graders to fall behind academically, according to district records.
As Washington County Schools moves forward with plans to fire Michelle Gillis, public records show administrators could have fired her months ago for insubordination following continued absences.
By January of this school year, records revealed Gillis had already missed 26% of the school year with 25 absences in all, which is the equivalent of 156 hours of instruction, according to records in her personnel file. Gillis’ file includes two letters of reprimand, including one from November and one from January.
Instead of firing Gillis, administrators decided to give her a chance to improve her behavior.
“Your demonstration of insubordination by failing to follow a directive from your principal is a serious matter,” Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said in a January 2017 letter to Gillis. “Moving forward…you are hereby directed to provide my office with a signed, written doctor’s excuse for each subsequent absence from work.”
Her January letter of reprimand also notified Gillis her “disregard for professional duties also causes your students to fall far behind the rest of the third grade students.”
In November, a letter of reprimand warned Gillis her “absences and tardiness have left your students unsupervised on multiple occasions, placed them in danger, and are causing concerns for parents, your grade level team members, and the office staff.”
Despite her previous discipline, the teacher reportedly showed up to school under the influence in April and fell in her classroom that morning while carrying her students’ state tests, according to newly reviewed district records.
“On Thursday, April 27, 2017, (the art teacher), requested that I check to see if you were okay after she observed you stumbling while walking through the library subsequent to retrieving your TNReady standardized tests,” a recent letter from the principal to Gillis said. “I immediately proceeded to your classroom where I was confronted by (a volunteer) who was scheduled to proctor the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) TNReady test in your classroom. (She) stated regarding your condition, ‘there is something wrong with her; she just fell and is so confused.’ (She) provided a letter outlining her concerns about the events that took place in your classroom that morning. In the letter, she states, ‘(Ms. Gillis) came into the room with the tests and I could see something was wrong.’ The stumbling was worse as if she had no control over her legs. I started toward her as she fell forward, then turned to the right so that she landed on her back and as she went down she hit a crate that was in the floor. The box of tests fell beside her.”
The principal said he asked her if she was okay and she responded, “I am fine. I just don’t feel well.”
“Your speech was slurred as you spoke, so I asked that you proceed with me to my office,” the principal wrote. “You stumbled and staggered several times on the way to my office.”
Although Gillis told the principal she wasn’t intoxicated, a field sobriety test and blood alcohol test cast doubt, according to district records.
“If an emergency were to take place, your (judgment) and decision-making ability would be impaired increasing the risk of danger to the students placed in your care,” the principal said. “Moreover, it is impossible to perform the duties and responsibilities expected of a teacher while intoxicated. Your behavior placed undue stress on the students in your classroom.”
As far back as November, Gillis’ principal told her she could take Family Medical Leave and provided her with direction for counseling and other support, according to public records. The principal offered that support after Gillis’ pastor told him she was under his counseling for problems related to alcohol dependency, according to the letter.
As we previously reported, the district is in the process of trying to dismiss Gillis for conduct unbecoming of an educator and improper use of narcotics or intoxicants. The school board will consider her termination at its June 1, 2017 meeting, according to district records.
This is Gillis’ first year at JES, according to documents in her personnel file. She previously worked at Gray Elementary School.
We’ve made attempts to reach Gillis, but have not yet heard back. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Education Association said at this time, the association cannot comment about the situation on her behalf.
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