A cruise to the Bahamas has left Signal Mountain Middle/High School's sterling reputation with a hangover, and it has left parents and others in the community with as many questions as answers.
The Tennessee State Board of Education has recommended that the licenses of five staff members at the school be suspended for a year after they allegedly drank alcohol on the five-day cruise in March. Those five and two more, who all were chaperones on the senior trip, were suspended without pay in April after a central office investigation.
Additionally, 16 students were disciplined for drinking while their ship was docked in the Bahamas.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that the chaperones are not accused of drinking in the presence of students.
Nevertheless, questions linger. Rising seniors at the school may be wondering whether future trips of this nature will be banned or sharply curtailed. And what are we to make of the fact that the investigation began after two counselors were found with alcohol at the school?
Barring a successful appeal of the state board's decision, at least five of the staff members involved won't be able to work at the school next year. That is potentially a traumatic loss of what school board member Chip Baker calls "very strong staff members." He may well be correct in his assessment of their abilities. They may do a superb job. But given the circumstances, it is hard to fault the state board for the action it has taken, which it says is along the lines of measures it has taken after similar incidents.
Adding to the school's challenges, Principal Tom McCullough has announced that he is retiring. That announcement came just one day after the state board notified the school of its action against the staff members.
McCullough suggests the timing is coincidental, but he did note that "anytime a school principal has to deal with issues like this, it can cause a lot of stress."
There are, of course, sound reasons for the ban on staff using or possessing alcohol either on campus or at school-related events off campus.
"I think it's important for district directors to train their staff on what is expected of them," Dannell Walker, general counsel for the state Board of Education, told the Times Free Press. "They're in charge of supervising students, and if they're not sober, it brings a whole other realm of liability on the district."
There has not been an indication that staff members actually became inebriated on the trip. But guarding against that troubling possibility is one of the sensible justifications for the ban on drinking by staff during school-related activities.
Signal Mountain Middle/High School is among the best public schools in the county. It has a good academic reputation and a great many dedicated staff members and students.
These recent incidents and the consequences that flowed from them have caused the community some pain. We hope and fully expect, however, that the school will be back on track in no time, and that the fallout from the cruise will serve as a warning to all schools in the area that alcohol and school functions do not mix.