Ellen Cougill, a 47-year-old Brooksville, Florida middle school teacher was removed from her school last month amid allegations that she came to work drunk. Cougill is accused of both being intoxicated and of having some inappropriately personal conversations with students, but adamantly claims she is innocent.
Officials at West Hernando Middle School report that the educator was witnessed stumbling through the halls, slurring her words and appeared red-faced and glassy-eyed with dilated pupils. They also report that she engaged in a completely incoherent conversation with an assistant principal at the school, and an entirely inappropriate conversation of a personal nature with a group of students.
Cougill was removed from her classroom by a school resource officer and was asked to leave the school upon turning in her badge and keys. She then reportedly proceeded to enter a bathroom stall where she locked herself in and consumed the contents of a plastic cup smelling of alcohol.
The middle school language arts teacher denies that she was drunk at school, though a blood alcohol test later revealed that she was well in excess of the state of Florida’s legal limit of .08. Cougill claims that the results of this test are inaccurate due to the fact that she suffers from diabetes. She explains that her diabetes influences the rate at which her body processes alcohol and as a result her blood alcohol reading appeared higher than it should have. In addition, the educator reports that she takes nine different prescription medications for a variety of health issues and believes that these may have impacted the test results as well.
Cougill admits that she was drinking with friends visiting Florida from abroad the night before, but claims that she consumed two glasses of wine and two shots, all before midnight when she stopped drinking altogether. She claims that the plastic cup that she took into the bathroom stall contained only iced tea and that she went in there because she was feeling intimidated. Cougill denies being drunk at school and staunchly maintains her innocence, but now says that she regrets not calling off of work because “it would have been a lot less traumatic.” She reports that she did not want to miss work due to ongoing concerns about student performance. The teacher has commented that she has been “humiliated and embarrased” by the incident.
Cougill has been on paid leave since the incident with a recommendation that she be terminated. The school board will decide the fate of her employment this Tuesday, January 6. Cougill told reporters that she has concerns that she will not be treated fairly.
Cougill isn’t the only Florida teacher to be accused of being drunk on the job in recent weeks. A middle school teacher from Yearling Middle School in Okeechobee was reportedly removed from her classroom on January 27 after students reported that she was slurring her speech and stumbling. The school principal and a resource officer reportedly observed the same behavior and asked the teacher to leave the premises.
Like Cougill, the Florida teacher in this case denies the claims that she was drunk at school. She maintains her innocence explaining that she is “going through a lot of things in her personal life.” The teacher has been placed on leave pending further investigation by school officials.
By Michele Wessel