High school science teacher Joanie McKnight gave notice that she intends to retire at the end of the school year, her attorney confirmed Tuesday. Even so, she will continue to contest a potentially career-damaging formal reprimand by the school district accusing her of coming to school intoxicated in December, 2010.
“She doesn’t want to be retiring,” said James Guziak, McKnight’s attorney out of Anaheim. “She wishes she could teach longer but this has taken a toll on her. It’s a very emotional time for her and I would like to just let her have some peace.”
The lawsuit contends that the school district’s actions violated McKnight’s right to privacy and defamed her reputation. Attorneys for the school district are challenging the defamation of character allegation in a court hearing set for Friday, July 11.
McKnight hoped to continue teaching at the high school a few more years, said Guziak. “I loved working there,” McKnight said in a message Wednesday. “I’m emotional right now. Tomorrow’s our last day. I love what I do.”
Leisa Winston, the district’s director of human resources and Linda Barker, president of the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association, said Tuesday that McKnight’s case and position with the district is a pending confidential personnel matter and they could not discussit at this time.
The matter is set for a jury trial Sept. 22 in Orange County Superior Court, Guziak said.
District administrators placed a formal reprimand in McKnight’s personnel records, which are available to future employers, in early 2011. Guziak’s suit contests the school district’s notice of unprofessional conduct, which was issued after McKnight was accused of arriving at school intoxicated on Friday, Dec. 10, 2010, and acting uncooperatively with authorities. She refused to submit to a sobriety test because she distrusted that it would be administered fairly, he said.
Guziak said he will argue that district officials were attempting to discredit McKnight and that she was not afforded a neutral investigation as promised. McKnight had raised questions to her superiors about former high school principal Don Austin’s actions; she was also an activist for an anti-bullying program at the school, court records say.
McKnight, a 26-year district employee, was given a week’s temporary paid leave in 2010. She resumed teaching in January 2011 and has been in the classroom since. She originally contested the district’s actions last June, but Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks ruled that McKnight’s defense did not present enough evidence to prove that the notice of unprofessional conduct violated her rights.
While the school district’s attorneys requested that the case be dismissed, the judge refused, deciding there were enough issues to warrant a jury trial. Guziak intends to argue that McKnight was not intoxicated, was treated unfairly and is undeserving of a professional reprimand.
McKnight arrived at school late on Dec. 10, 2010, after learning her brother had a heart attack and was diagnosed with colon cancer and that her husband had narrowly missed a car accident, court records say. McKnight had wine with dinner, forgot to set her alarm, overslept, and called school administrators the next morning to let them know she’d be late, according to court records.
The article “Disciplined Teacher Plans to Retire” in the June 20 edition imprecisely attributed facts from a lawsuit filed on behalf of Joanie McKnight to her attorney, James Guziak, rather than from the court record itself. A statement that McKnight refused to submit to a sobriety test was misattributed to Guziak, rather than court records, and incompletely explains the rationale for her refusal. The article also states that McKnight had drunk wine the night prior to an incident that led to disciplinary action against her, a fact not stated in the lawsuit and inaccurately attributed to court records.