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Teacher's conduct defended

Science teacher placed on leave in December after allegedly reporting to school drunk. She may face further disciplinary action.

January 13, 2011|By Ashley Breeding, coastlinepilot@latimes.com

The husband of a Laguna Beach High School science teacher defended her at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting against an allegation of unprofessional conduct after she reported to work late Dec. 10 and was accused of alcohol intoxication. Another teacher and a former student also spoke on her behalf.

Mike McNight, husband of Joanie McNight, who has taught at the school for more than 20 years, said his wife was late but not under the influence of alcohol when she came to school the day after learning that her brother had suffered a heart attack.

Following the incident, Joanie was placed on paid leave for a month and returned to the classroom Tuesday. The board was to consider placing her on probation at a closed session that day. The results of the closed session have not been made public.

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"The allegation that she went to school drunk is untrue and absurd. She is guilty of being late and that is all," Mike McKnight said. "To say otherwise is patently false, ridiculous and slanderous."

McNight's attorney, James Harker, who was also present at Tuesday's meeting, said his client did not deserve to be disciplined for being tardy due to a stressful family situation.

"There was no unprofessional conduct here," Harker told the Coastline Pilot. "The proper employer response should have been to follow the law by acknowledging its employee's family illness and allocating the hours she missed to family illness or personal necessity leave. Instead, the administration elected to treat the lost work time as a disciplinary matter, thereby failing to follow the district's own rules."

Mike McNight said his wife was under a lot of personal stress and overslept that morning. He said he suggested she call in sick, but she said she was eager to attend a meeting she had scheduled with Principal Don Austin regarding an anti-bullying program she was interested in pursuing at the school.

When McNight reported to school, a campus official claimed she smelled alcohol on McNight's breath, and she was sent home for "unprofessional conduct" while the administration conducted an investigation, Harker said.

Spanish teacher Rod Ortiz, who was privy to the events of Dec. 10, told the board McNight did not smell of alcohol that day and saw no evidence that an investigation was conducted on the incident.

"She told me she was being accused of being intoxicated, but I did not smell alcohol on her breath whatsoever," he said.

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