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Violent Domestic Criminals Under Influence of Drugs Teach At Priest River Schools

The West Bonner County School District has no educational requirements for substitute teachers and high school dropouts are teaching classes to students with more education than the teacher. Criminal records, including violent crimes in front of children and drug related ones don't disqualify a high school dropout from being a substitute teacher in Priest River, ID.
PRIEST RIVER, Idaho - Parents of students in the West Bonner County School District are outraged that unqualified substitute teachers with long histories of criminal activity and drug use slipped through the district's criminal and drug screening policy.

The West Bonner County School District [WBCSD] has adopted several policies to promote a positive educational climate where students can safely grow and learn. WBCSD has educational requirements for teachers and both pre-employment criminal background checks and drug testing procedures, as required by state law, in place to prevent the hiring and employment of individuals not conducive with the district's stated goals.

At first glance, district guidelines seem somewhat effective in eliminating any potential threat to the education and well being of area students, however upon further review of district policy, it was discovered that the criteria used to employ and review regular full-time teachers are not used for substitute teachers. The WBCSD has no educational requirements for substitutes and has teachers on the payroll who have no high school diploma or GED.

This relatively unknown policy that allows uneducated and unqualified individuals to act as teachers has shocked and sparked the ire of Priest River parents. "I can't believe it. It makes no sense to me. How could the district do that and pretend that they care about teaching my kids when they have substitutes that don't have as much schooling as me, and trust me, you don't want me teaching kids." commented Jason Hardison of A&J Hardison Excavation.

"I find it strange that a substitute teaching a senior class in high school can have less education than the students in the class. This has to be a joke, the school wouldn't let this happen," one parent commented. It appears that the joke is on students and parents because when WBCSD superintendent Mike McGuire's office was asked about this policy, their was no comment on the matter after several attempts to obtain a statement.

The lack of educational requirements and employing high school dropouts as teachers violates the trust parents have in the WBCSD to provide the best education available for their children, but when combined with other policies that allow undesirables with extensive criminal records to work as substitutes, regaining that trust becomes nearly impossible.

Discovery of less than felony convictions through criminal background checks does not immediately disqualify a potential sub from employment. These criminal convictions are left to the sole discretion of the district superintendent, including violent domestic crime convictions committed in front of children.

Additionally, the district's drug testing policy does not include random testing for substitutes and provides the drug using substitute ample notification to "clean up". This loophole to a seemingly otherwise sound policy that protects students from the scourge of increased drug use by substitute teachers nationwide has alarmed parents in the Priest River area and they are prepared to take action.

Renown child psychologist and author, Torey Hayden, commented that scenarios such as these are problematic on a multitude of levels. "Children rely upon their parents and teachers as examples to show them how to grow into society, but when those examples are contrary to accepted moral, legal and ethical standards, it sends mixed messages that they would otherwise not have to overcome. How these people slip through the cracks is beyond me, but our combined efforts to put the children's development ahead of all else will eventually seal the cracks."

"This is a small community and when we go to the grocery store, I do not want my children to see their substitute teacher hanging outside some bar with people that look like they are homeless drug addicts," commented Sarah Atkins of Vay. "I can't believe the school doesn't have a random drug testing policy to remove these so-called teachers from the classroom. I guess they [WBCSD] don't really care about the kids at all," she continued.

Mrs. Atkins was referring to one substitute teacher whose behavior and criminal record created this uproar. Christine M. Zeason is a divorced 45-year old high school drop-out and mother of three whose acts throughout recent years do not coincide with that of a teacher who parents can trust to set their children's best interests as a priority. This substitute not only has a "tab" at the local bar in Oldtown, where she frequents several times a week and is reportedly seen smoking marijuana in the parking lot, but has and on and off again live-in relationship with a homeless man, only years out of high school, who is known locally to be a "person of interest" in several drug related crimes and activities.

Further investigation revealed some appalling information that does not bode well for the WBCSD or its policies. Ms. Zeason is a high school dropout with no degree or training as an educator whatsoever. Additionally, and most shocking, she was convicted of domestic battery with the special circumstance of committing the crime in front of children in Bonner County 6 years ago. She was arrested for domestic assault in Oregon prior to moving to Idaho and has admitted to violently using a beer bottle to break an innocent by-stander's jaw while there. She also has a theft conviction in California along with controlled substance charges. Ms. Zeason's crimes were of such a violent nature that she was stripped of her gun rights and cannot own or possess a firearm.

Children Protective Services have investigated her for charges of child abuse and marijuana and methamphetamine use in the home amongst her children and additional claims of abuse and drug use by teachers, parents and members of the community would fill pages, yet WBCSD policies allow this type of unqualified sub to remain in the classroom influencing students.

Again, repeated attempts to obtain the district's reasoning in employing these types of individuals as teachers and clarification on the issue from Mike McGuire and the WBCSD have fallen upon deaf ears. The only thing more deafening is the school district's silence on the issue.

This is not to suggest that certain unqualified teachers are incapable of educating our children, but in the absence of any formal training, a teacher should at least be exemplary in all other areas, rather than ones with no diploma, domestic violence convictions, and known drug use like exist in the WBCSD. Boise Schools require at least a GED and 48 college credit hours of their substitutes and the Coeur d' Alene District no longer accept substitutes without a teaching credential.

There is absolutely no reason to have unqualified substitutes in the classroom anywhere or at any time. Recruiting substitutes is not a difficult task; there are more than enough qualified potential employees with college degrees in every district. Considering current unemployment rates around the country, there has never been a period in recent history where such an enormous qualified substitute pool existed.

School districts often cite a lack of potential "qualified" teachers available as the excuse to have uneducated people in the classroom. Budgetary restraints are used a reason for not randomly drug test substitutes, along with the ridiculous assumption that if they did drug test, there would not be enough teachers... "if the choice is a drug addicted substitute with no education or a day or two at home for my children, then we'll take the days off. To tell me that I am either going to have a violent drug-addict teacher who doesn't even have a high school diploma or no teacher at all,,,I will opt for the none at all. What kind of choice is that and what happened to our schools to even consider such a question?" continued Sarah Atkins.

The hiring of unqualified substitutes has been an issue throughout the country for some time, particularly in rural areas. Slowly, with the support of parents and administrators who know that the influence upon students by teachers is a significant part of the learning process, districts have been forced to increase the criteria in hiring and employing substitutes. WBCSD and Priest River seem to be stuck in the dark ages and rather than striving for excellence in our children's education, mediocrity is the standard and in the case of this substitute teacher, substandard and inferior instruction of our children is the accepted status quo.

We are dealing with the future of our communities, country and planet when we educate our children and nothing is more crucial to our future. To put that into the hands of a convicted violent domestic abuser with no formal education and a drug habit is to tie our children's hands behind their back before they even start the race.



Dick Burnett is a freelance Journalist