A state board voted to suspend a former West Fargo teacher’s license for five years Thursday, after allegations surfaced this year that she was partying with students and had alcohol in her classroom.
The North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board’s unanimous decision came after more than 40 minutes of discussion on the appropriate penalty for former Sheyenne High School teacher Elizabeth Doster’s conduct. The board narrowly rejected a more lenient punishment that would have allowed Doster to reapply for her license after three years.
“If we’re talking about alcoholism being an addiction and being a disease, how do we help a person who once was a very strong teacher recover and get the assistance they need?” said board member Ben Johnson, the secondary assistant superintendent of Bismarck Public Schools.
The board’s decision does require Doster to prove she’s gone through chemical dependency treatment and is sober, as well as complete an ethics course. Doster, who was not present at the board meeting at the state Capitol, must bear all the costs of those requirements.
Board member Bob Toso, who’s also a member of the school board in Jamestown, said he previously favored a permanent suspension. He said the board could reinstate the license within five years if Doster completed the other requirements.
“As an ex-principal (and) parent, I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I want her in my classroom,” Toso said. “This teacher does not do the profession justice.”
Assistant Attorney General Edward Erickson said the board had a strong case on the allegations that Doster had alcohol on school grounds -- a report sent to the board included pictures of beer cans found in her classroom -- but they stood on more shaky footing on the other claims.
Police were called to Doster’s Fargo home in July by a girl who said Doster and three young males were drinking. Police issued a minor-in-possession citation to an 18-year-old male who had a blood-alcohol level of .235 percent. Doster denied giving minors alcohol that night.
Erickson noted that Cass County prosecutors declined to bring charges because of a lack of evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
A West Fargo school resource officer received a tip in mid-August from a student who said Doster had been giving alcohol to students and had engaged in oral sex with a student. But Erickson said the school’s investigation indicated the latter claim was a rumor “floating around” without witnesses.
“Those charges, I certainly think, have no merit,” he said.
An investigation into Doster was opened in mid-August after school officials received a complaint from a student and parent who said she was "partying and driving around smoking dope with students," according to school district documents previously obtained. The West Fargo School Board accepted her resignation on Aug. 28.
Doster did not return a message Thursday. She has previously declined to comment on the allegations.