‘You smoke weed?’ Teacher says her medical pot use led to harassment in suburban district

The teacher filed a charge of discrimination last year against Valley View School District 365U with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

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Valley View Early Childhood Center in Romeoville

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A suburban special education teacher has filed a formal complaint against the school district where she works claiming she’s faced harassment that stems from her use of medical marijuana to treat arthritis.

The teacher filed the charge of discrimination last year against Valley View School District 365U with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. She alleges the district and the administration at the Valley View Early Childhood Center in Romeoville have created a “hostile work environment” and she fears “losing a dream job” over her medical cannabis use.

“You smoke weed?” an administrator reportedly asked during a meeting at the center of the complaint. “What do you use and why?” another staff member inquired.

Though medical marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2014 — and recreational weed will soon be legal on Jan. 1 — state law still allows workplaces to drug test employees and ban them from using the drug. State Rep. Bob Morgan (D-58th), the former director of Illinois’ medical cannabis program, plans to introduce legislation in the spring that will protect medical card holders and ensure they’re not disciplined or terminated for failing a drug test.

While the Romeoville teacher, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, wasn’t drug tested, she claims the ongoing discrimination has made her wary of fellow school employees and has had a damaging effect on her overall mental health.

“I feel that I am being judged,” the teacher, 48, writes in the IDHR charge. “I feel embarrassed, violated, confused and heartbroken and betrayed by my own colleagues. I have seen my therapist more than I ever have. My panic attacks have increased.”

Jim Blaney, director of community relations for the school district, declined to comment on the pending matter but pointed to a school board policy that strictly prohibits the “possession or use of medical cannabis” at work. There are no other references to marijuana in the manual.

Illinois students are allowed to use medical cannabis at schools, but state law otherwise prohibits the possession of marijuana on school grounds.

The teacher’s use of cannabis was first brought to the fore on April 19, 2018, when school administrators called her into a meeting and claimed that several staffers had reported she smelled like weed, according to the IDHR charge. The teacher admitted that she has a license to use medical marijuana but denied that she does so at school.

A district official later inquired about how she obtained her medical cannabis card and asked for verification from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Both instances, the teacher claims, serve as violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a federal law that protects medical records and other personal health data.

Jacci Brown, the school’s principal, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Mo Green, a spokesman for the IDHR, declined to comment on the pending investigation. Green said the agency’s findings will eventually be referred to the Illinois Human Rights Commission, which will determine if they’re valid and identify ways to remedy the situation.

The teacher, who has worked at Valley View since 2014, said she could potentially take legal action but remains open to reaching a settlement.

State rep seeks to ban drug tests for medical users

Meanwhile, the teacher told the Sun-Times the alleged harassment has continued, noting that the school has “turned into a really yucky environment.” Over the course of the imbroglio, she has sought guidance from Rep. Morgan.

Morgan declined to comment on her case but said he has received calls from teachers “struggling to find the balance of using the medical cannabis they are allowed to use while protecting themselves and their jobs.”

He noted that state law currently grants employers a “tremendous amount of discretion” regarding pot-related issues and allows them to fire medical patients who test positive for weed.

The bill he plans to introduce would allow medical card holders the right to use when off duty. A positive drug test, he said, “isn’t an indication of impairment” because cannabis can stay in a person’s system for roughly a month.

However, Morgan’s bill wouldn’t apply to recreational users who could still be subjected to drug tests for pot under the new law.

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