Drunk Iowa Teacher Wins Unemployment Benefits; Keeps Driver's License

Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014 11:10 PM

By Paul Brennan, Watchdog.org

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If Dennis Pagel had taken a box of school supplies while working as a teacher at Dallas-Center Grimes Middle School west of Des Moines, he could have gotten in serious trouble.

Luckily for Pagel, he just showed up for work drunk and on OxyContin.

For lighting up a breath test at three times the legal limit, Pagel received a three-day suspension with pay and later was allowed to resign.

He's now collecting unemployment, thanks to a ruling by an administrative law judge earlier this month.

Iowa Watchdog tied to contact Pagel to discuss his case, but he has failed to reply.

Pagel, who had been a teacher in the Dallas-Center Grimes Community School District since 2005, was initially denied unemployment benefits due to "work-connected misconduct."

He appealed the decision. In his appeal, Pagel did not dispute the facts.

On the morning of May 27, Pagel showed up for work with a severe hangover, and he had taken OxyContin. At lunch, Pagel decided to treat his hangover by going home and drinking.

When he returned to school, Pagel was so obviously drunk his fellow teachers informed Principal Jerry Hlas.

Hlas summoned Pagel to his office, and Pagel confessed to drinking. He claimed recent weight-loss surgery had made him more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.

Hlas contacted the Dallas Center Police. Officer Derrick Spoerry responded to the call and administered a breath test to Pagel.

Pagel registered a blood-alcohol level of .297, more than three times the legal limit for drivers.

A search of Pagel's car uncovered a bottle of vodka.

According to Spoerry's report, Hlas said he would have Pagel driven home and that "the school would handle this issue."

Pagel was not arrested and no charges were brought against him.

Instead, Pagel received a three-day suspension with pay.

At his appeal, Pagel testified that a few days later he was told by "district officials" they received complaints that Pagel's punishment was too lenient.

Pagel then struck a deal with the district. He was allowed to resign. In return, the district agreed not to oppose his application for unemployment benefits.

Since the district didn't even have a representative participate in the appeal, the judge said he had no choice but to rule in Pagel's favor.

But Pagel's deal with the district did more than just enable him to receive unemployment benefits. It will also make it easier for him to get future employment.

The district agreed not to inform future employers as to why Pagel resigned.

Those potential future employers include every other school district in Iowa, because the district also agreed not to inform the Iowa Board of Education Examiners (BoEE), the body that licenses teachers.

Iowa Watchdog tried to contact Dallas-Center Grimes Community School District Superintendent Scott Grimes, but he has not responded to questions left on his voice mail about the district's deal with Pagel and about the district's policy regarding drunken teachers.

Remarkably enough, Iowa schools are not required to report teachers who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

"They certainly can report that behavior, but when the Legislature revised the reporting requirements in 2012, it only required reporting for three separate areas of behavior," Darcy Lane, an attorney for BoEE, told Iowa Watchdog.

"Those areas are soliciting, encouraging or consummating a romantic or otherwise inappropriate relationship with a student; falsifying students' grades, test scores, or other official information or materials; and converting public property or funds to the personal use of the school employee," Lane said.

Any of those activities will get a teacher's license revoked.

So will certain crimes: forcible felonies — such as murder, armed robbery, and rape — and sexual crimes involving minors.

"All other criminal convictions that don't rise to that level are assessed according to factors such as how recently the offense occurred and how many offenses there were," Lane explained.

Even if Pagel had been arrested for public drunkenness, he would have been facing only a suspension of his teaching license.

Since 2012, BoEE has disciplined five teachers for alcohol or drug use at school. Each had his or her license suspended for two years and was required to take an ethics course.

If after the end of that period the teacher can document at least two years continual sobriety, the suspension will be lifted.

The fact that Pagel testified to an administrative law judge that he was drunk at school does nothing to jeopardize his teaching license.

According to Lane, "In order to initiate an investigation, the board needs to receive a complaint. The board doesn't have the authority to initiate a complaint by itself; it has to receive a complaint from an eligible complainant."

Eligible complainants include any licensed educational professional, as well as parents whose children have been affected by unethical or criminal behavior.

So far, BoEE has received no complaints about Pagel.


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