A Florida high school dean has been fired after he tested positive for marijuana, even though it had been prescribed to him by a doctor to treat post-traumatic stress disorder he incurred in the Marines.
Belleview High School Dean Mike Hickman was fired by the Marion County School Board in a unanimous 5-0 vote Wednesday.
The board said that while medical marijuana is legal in Florida, the drug is illegal under federal law, its use violates district policy and he failed to notify his supervisor he was using it.
The central Florida district offered to suspend Hickman, 51, if he agreed not to use medical marijuana in the future, but the 10-year employee refused. After an administrative judge upheld a previous superintendent’s recommendation that he be fired, the board acted.
Mark Levitt, an attorney who represents current Superintendent Diane Gullett, told the board Gullett agrees with her predecessor’s decision and Hickman’s military service should not cloud their judgment. Hickman fought in Iraq during Gulf Storm 30 years ago.
‘He was given the opportunity to stop using it,’ Levitt said.
Belleview High School Dean Mike Hickman was fired by the Marion County School Board in a unanimous 5-0 vote Wednesday (pictured during an earlier virtual hearing in August)
Hickman’s attorney, Mark Herdman, told the Ocala Star-Banner, ‘It is just another unfortunate decision handed down by the Marion County School Board to fire yet another good employee.’
Hickman argued it was unfair that he legally could have kept using the opioid painkiller he took before switching to marijuana because it was more effective and has fewer side effects.
Chris Altobello, an executive director with the Marion County teachers union, told the paper in a text message that Hickman ‘was no more impaired than someone who took an aspirin for a headache. They implied that this is tantamount to smoking pot in the boys bathroom!’
The district learned of Hickman’s marijuana use on November 5, 2019, when he injured his shoulder breaking up a fight at Belleview High School.
He went to the district’s worker compensation doctor, who is required to administer a urinalysis as part of the treatment.
The doctor reported to the School District that Hickman tested positive for cannabis, which is a violation of the school system’s zero tolerance alcohol and drug-free workplace policy, as established by the School Board.
‘Imagine if this employee just sat back and let the two students continue to fight without regard for their safety. We wouldn’t be here right now,’ Altobello said. ‘Or if we were, it would have been for not intervening.’
Then-Superintendent of schools Heidi Maier filed a complaint in January seeking to fire Hickman. He requested a hearing and was first suspended without pay. Two weeks later, the suspension was changed to paid leave.
The district has maintained that marijuana use is against federal law and that if the district didn’t act, then it could lose federal funding.
School board policy also states that an employee should inform their supervisor if prescribed medical marijuana.
‘At no time prior to his positive drug screen did [Hickman] notify his supervisor that he was using medical marijuana,’ according to the administrative Judge Suzanne Van Wyk’s Wednesday ruling. ‘[Hickman] has been employed by the Board since 2010.’
The district learned of Hickman’s marijuana use on November 5, 2019, when he injured his shoulder breaking up a fight at Belleview High School (above)
In her eight-page decision, Wyk also noted that Hickman had argued that it’s unfair he’s being penalized for use of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain, but would be allowed ‘to continue teaching under the influence of opioid pain medications, which he took for years prior to the availability of medical marijuana.’
‘The undersigned notes that the remedy of suspension is also available under the applicable rule,’ the ruling noted, according to the Star Banner.
Though medical marijuana is legal in Florida, the state Legislature made it clear that employees are still no allowed to go to work under the influence, Levitt pointed out.
When Hickman was asked whether he would stop using medical marijuana if he was given a suspension, he said ‘no’, adding that the prescribed drug helps him with pain suffered from years of surgeries from combats wounds, in addition to his PTSD.
Then-Superintendent of schools Heidi Maier filed a complaint in January seeking to fire Hickman. He requested a hearing and was first suspended without pay. Two weeks later, the suspension was changed to paid leave
Hickman’s attorney, Herdman, said the board should not automatically fire an employee for drug use, and that each case should be judged on its own merits.
He urged the school board to look at Hickman’s 20 years of service to the school district and his military record.
A decorated war hero of the U.S. Marine Corps, Hickman was medevaced out of Kuwait during Desert Storm in the spring of 1991 after suffering a 13-foot fall from an assault amphibious vehicle mid-combat, according to WUFT.
In the 30 years since, he has been through 24 surgeries and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
But the board ultimately ruled against Hickman, insisting introducing a case-by-case policy on employee drug breaches was a precedent they weren’t willing to set.
They said if they didn’t act against Hickman, then other employees in different areas, such as transportation, may be allowed to start using medical marijuana.
The Marion County School Board did however recently pass a medical marijuana policy for students, which allows parents to check their child out of school and administer the recommended dose in their car in the parking lot.
But the district’s employee policy is a zero-tolerance. Officials have urged the school board to revisit its policy for staff.