Monday, September 25, 2006

Is teacher's suicide attempt "an immoral act"?

This is probably a little more of an employment law issue, but mental health lawyers may find interesting this story from the September 20 issue of CDC's Public Health Law News:

“Teacher’s suicide attempt prompts morality debate”
St. Petersburg Times (09/10/06) Mary Spicuzza

Next month, the Pasco County, Florida, School Board will hold a quasi-judicial hearing to determine the fate of a high school teacher who tried to kill herself at the school in May. Staff members and three or four students witnessed the incident. Schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino says Patti Withers’ suicide attempt was an “immoral act,” and that she should lose her job. Fiorentino also contends that witnessing a suicide attempt can adversely influence adolescents -- a phenomenon called “contagion.” In a letter to Withers, Fiorentino cited the Florida State Board of Education’s administrative rules, which allow dismissal for “immoral conduct.” The rules do not specifically mention suicide, but Fiorentino says Withers’ act was a clear case of misconduct. “As a teacher, you’re a role model for children,” she said. “And this is not what I want as an example.” Florida School Boards Association executive director Wayne Blanton said he supports Fiorentino’s decision. “The first job is not education,” he said. “The first duty is the health, safety, and welfare of students. [Fiorentino] is dealing with this in the way she feels is necessary….” But Chris Kuczynski, of the EEOC’s Americans with Disabilities Act division, said an employee with disabilities such as mental illness may need to pose a direct threat to themselves or others for an employer to take action. The teachers union has asked the School Board to allow Withers to go on health leave, rather than terminate her.

[Editor’s note: For information from CDC on suicide, visit:]
posted by tommayo, 8:45 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter