School employees allowed to have alcohol in their systems at two districts

NORTHEAST TENNESSEE (WJHL) – Carter County’s director of schools is pledging to re-evaluate the district’s employee alcohol policy after our Community Watchdog investigation revealed it allows up to a .08 blood alcohol level, which is the highest in Northeast Tennessee. Meanwhile, Washington County’s director of schools is standing behind that school system’s new .04 BAC limit.

Carter County Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward said his district crafted its comprehensive drug-free workplace policy from another Tennessee county and has never had to use the specific alcohol portion of it. However, now that he’s heard the disparities between Carter County and other districts’ policies, he says it’s time to reconsider, especially considering the .08 level is the same as the legal driving limit.

“It does concern me,” he said. “It does concern me to the point that I think it’s probably too high. Now that it’s been brought to our attention, I think it’s something we need to have a discussion and we will.”

We started investigating district drug and alcohol policies after a Washington County teacher reportedly showed up to work under the influence. District records revealed her BAC was above the .04 limit. She voluntarily resigned.

Washington County implemented its new policy in March.

“We believe it’s a good policy,” Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said. “We believe it protects our students and the safety of our students.”

Halliburton says the district reviewed all policies when she took over last year and crafted this one, after much research, similarly to Metro Nashville Public School’s policy. Halliburton came from that school district.

“What we discovered in the research was that .04 is where a person begins, where most individuals begin to become impaired,” she said.

She believes any districts that do not have a clear cut off are taking a big risk, especially since she says medication containing alcohol can impact a person’s BAC.

“We started thinking about it being very risky if you don’t have a threshold number,” Halliburton said. “Law enforcement has a threshold number of course and we did not want our principals to have to use subjectivity in these matters…We just wanted to accommodate employees who would have a reasonable explanation.”

Our analysis of area district policies revealed most school districts in Northeast Tennessee prohibit drinking four hours before reporting to work or having a measurable amount of alcohol in an employee’s system.

Even if though it’s not the intent of the policy, Washington County’s BAC limit allows for some employees to possibly have one drink before arriving at school.

“Can you see where some parents may think, ‘Why in the world would that be policy?'” we asked.

“I do not see it that way,” Halliburton responded. “I see it as if an employee has a reasonable explanation and given that people do take medication, we have to have some sort of objective number.”

Halliburton says there are no plans to change Washington County’s policy.

“You’re not condoning a teacher having a drink before they come to school, are you?” we asked.

“Absolutely not, but again, we have to have a threshold that makes it more objective,” she responded.

Halliburton says before the district’s new rules, Washington County did not have a drug or alcohol policy, leaving room for interpretation.

We found a handful of districts with policies that were not nearly as clear cut.

Other district’s policies:

Kingsport

Johnson City

Bristol

Elizabethton

Sullivan County

Greene County

Johnson County

Hawkins County

Unicoi County

Greeneville

Rogersville

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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