Teacher censured after being caught drinking at school

A teacher quit her job a day after being caught drinking alcohol on school grounds.

Toni Osborne has been censured by the NZ Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal and the register annotated with conditions imposed to provide the Teaching Council with updates on her rehabilitation and to disclose the decision to employers for two years.

The recently-released tribunal decision states that on December 6, 2017, the assistant principal of Howick Intermediate School, where Ms Osborne was working, detected a strong smell of alcohol on Ms Osborne’s breath.

Ms Osborne initially denied that she had been drinking and said the smell was mouthwash. While looking to locate the mouthwash, the principal saw a water bottle in Ms Osborne’s laptop bag which was about one third full, the decision reads.

Ms Osborne agreed the principal could smell the contents but then walked past the principal and poured the contents down the drain, turned the tap on and tried to fill the bottle. The principal smelt the remaining contents of the bottle and detected a distinct smell of alcohol.

When asked, Ms Osborne said there was water in the bottle and maintained she had not consumed alcohol. The following day – December 7, 2017 – Ms Osborne sent an email to the principal acknowledging that she had brought alcohol to the school and apologised for having it in her bag.

She acknowledged she should never have put the principal or the school in that position and that it was very thoughtless of her. Later in the day, Ms Osborne confirmed to the principal that she had consumed alcohol at the school and knew she had made a mistake.

Ms Osborne resigned from the school that day. The case was referred to the Complaints Assessment Committee of the Teaching Council, who proceeded with a charge of serious misconduct in the Disciplinary Tribunal.

Ms Osborne did not dispute that her conduct amounted to serious misconduct. The Tribunal found that her conduct amounted to serious misconduct on the grounds that it reflected adversely on her fitness to practise as a teacher, brought the profession into disrepute and was of a severity to warrant referral to the council.

In considering penalty, the tribunal saw the aggravating features (Ms Osborne’s premeditation and dishonesty) as symptomatic behaviour of an addict but agreed that Ms Osborne deserved some recognition for contacting the school the next day to acknowledge her behaviour.

The tribunal was, however, skeptical of Ms Osborne’s explanation that the water bottle had been at school since the weekend and that she had taken a sip but not any more after realising what it was.

The tribunal considered that Ms Osborne has taken steps towards her rehabilitation and thought transparency was an important factor in deterrence for her.

Ms Osborne was censured and had conditions imposed on her practising certificate to provide the Teaching Council with updates on rehabilitative steps every three months for one year, and to disclose the decision to employers for two years.

The register will be annotated for three years to reflect these orders. Ms Osborne applied for a permanent order for non-publication of her name. This application was heard in private and was declined. The reasons for this were set out in a separate decision which has been suppressed. Ms Osborne was ordered to pay 40 per cent of the CAC’s costs and 40 per cent of the tribunal’s costs.