Texas regulators won’t punish teacher for getting high in Colorado


Highlights

Ruling could help teachers in similar out-of-state marijuana cases, legal expert says.

Judge also ruled that Ysleta school district had not demonstrated it had reason to test teacher for drugs.

In a move that could be good news for some future pot tourists, Texas education officials have officially dropped their case against an El Paso-area teacher who argued she shouldn’t be punished for a positive marijuana test because she had ingested the drug while vacationing in Colorado, where its use is legal.

Texas’s State Board for Educator Certification had sought to suspend Maryam Roland’s license for two years after Ysleta school district administrators tested her for drugs and the results came back pot positive. Even though it had occurred off the job, the agency contended her Rocky Mountain high made Roland “unworthy to instruct.”

Earlier this year, however, an administrative law judge agreed the explanation made legal sense. Marijuana has been permitted for recreational use in Colorado since 2013.

“Possession of a usable quantity of marijuana is a criminal offense in Texas, but so is gambling,” Administrative Law Judge William Newchurch wrote in January. And the court “would not recommend that the Board find a teacher unworthy to instruct in Texas because she legally gambled in Nevada.”

While Texas administrative courts can determine facts, their judicial decisions are considered recommendations. Final say in Roland’s case rested with the state’s education certification board, which can accept, modify or reject decisions.

At its meeting last month, however, the board quickly, unanimously and without comment agreed to accept Newchurch’s ruling. A lawyer for the agency explained the judge’s finding that the school district had insufficient reason to administer Roland the drug tests left education regulators with little recourse.

A Texas Education Agency spokeswoman said it doesn’t comment on individual cases. Roland’s attorney, Nicholas Enoch, did not return calls. State records show Roland has not taught since the end of the 2015 school year.

Although administrative decisions don’t set wide precedent like other courts, Roland’s victory does mean that if a similar out-of-state marijuana case were to arise, the Texas Education Agency would have to demonstrate why it should be decided otherwise, said Ron Beal, a Baylor Law School professor specializing in administrative law: “For the agency to act differently, it would have to give a rational explanation why.”

Roland’s problems began in February 2015, when a “disgruntled” former school employee sent a “rambling” email alleging that a teacher “always has cocaine on him,” according to court documents. A later email mentioned Roland by name.

When administrators confronted her, Roland admitted to having smoked marijuana “occasionally,” court documents show. She agreed to give breath, hair and urine samples for drug testing. Court filings show the breath and urine came back clean, however, the hair test indicated she’d consumed marijuana.

Hair tests are considered imprecise because follicles can show evidence of pot use as far back as six months. Roland, who was never accused of being high at work or poor performance, denied using the drug recently.

Attorneys said that despite the growing number of states legalizing marijuana, courts overwhelmingly have sided with employers in drug disputes, typically citing federal law, which still lists marijuana as an illegal narcotic. But in his 16-page decision, Newchurch concluded Roland hadn’t broken any Texas laws or local policies that would lead to a sanction against her license.

The judge found that Ysleta’s policies called for drug testing only as part of a random screening, after an accident or based on reasonable suspicion — none of which had occurred. “Aside from her limited marijuana consumption in Colorado,” he added, “the evidence does not show that (she) engaged in any other conduct that even arguably would render her unworthy to instruct.”



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