Seven Signal Mountain High School staff members have been suspended without pay for violating school policy while accompanying students in March on a senior trip to the Bahamas.
"The teachers did consume alcohol while on the trip," said Stacy Steward, assistant superintendent of human resources at Hamilton County Department of Education. "They're human and made some errors in judgment."
She said the HCDE investigation was a result of reports received by the department that SMHS staff members were consuming alcohol on the trip.
"We always follow up on reports of that nature," said Steward. "I'm not going to share any more details of the investigation."
About 80 SMHS seniors went on the trip, which the school board approved at its December meeting. She said she is unable to confirm reports of alcohol use by some of the students.
Steward said she is unsure what effect the staff infractions may have on school board decisions to approve future trips.
"I would suspect there may be a little more scrutiny going forward," she said.
Steward confirmed reports that SMHS guidance counselors Drs. LeAnn Welch and Anne Cushing were also involved in alcohol-related incidents "on school property" and have been suspended for the rest of the school year.
Welch is the wife of Dr. Jonathan Welch, the sole candidate running this August for Chip Baker's school board seat in SMHS' District 2.
Steward confirmed the other five staff members, who each received a 10-day suspension, include assistant principal Jason McKinney, teacher Steve Redman, guidance counselor Leslie Sharpe, college access advisor Sandy Mitchum and registrar Lizetta Paturalski.
"During the course of the investigation, everyone was entirely cooperative and honest," said Steward. "Each employee is a valued employee, and will continue to be a valued employee."
Steward said this is the first time to her knowledge in her six years working in HCDE's Human Resources Department that school employees have been punished for consuming alcohol on a school trip.
SMHS principal Dr. Tom McCullough declined to comment on the situation.
"I'm really not allowed to talk about it, because it's really a personnel matter," he said.