A Sacred Heart School teacher has appealed the state’s recent five-year suspension of his certificate because of a past drug offense, with school officials strongly supporting him..
Michael Koranda has filed suit against the South Dakota Department of Education (DOE). Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering will hear the April 4 appeal in Bon Homme County. The judge has issued a temporary stay of the DOE decision, allowing him to continue teaching until the appeal.
Koranda pleaded guilty last March to one count of possession of a controlled substance. He had baked brownies using marijuana-infused butter purchased in Colorado, where recreational cannabis is legal. He received a suspended imposition of sentence pending successful completion of a two-year probation.
“The SHS administration is supporting Mr. Koranda in his process of seeking an appeal of this decision,” the Rev. Tom Anderson told the Press & Dakotan. Anderson serves as pastor for both Sacred Heart and St. Benedict parishes in Yankton, with Sacred Heart School as one of his ministries.
The Press & Dakotan did not receive comment from the DOE on why it was pursuing the action months after Koranda’s court action in early 2022. The DOE filed its complaint last July and held its hearing last October. The DOE notified SHS about its decision last month.
Koranda filed his appeal in Bon Homme County, as he lived at Tabor and taught music in the Bon Homme school district at the time of his court proceedings.
In court documents, then-Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson cited four instances in which Koranda violated professional standards. The DOE findings noted Koranda’s criminal complaint at the time of his arrest listed hashish as well as THC. In addition, his drug patch worn Jan. 5-17, 2022, tested positive for THC and meth.
Koranda said he believed the butter contained only marijuana, not hashish. As for the positive test for meth, Koranda said he attended a Jan. 1, 2022, gathering in Colorado and another person brought marijuana that may have contained meth.
Koranda said he won’t return to drug use in any setting, legal or not.
“I underwent a chemical dependency evaluation, and the results were that I did not meet the criteria for resources. My probation officer, Erica Hansen, advised me that I was not required to undergo any treatment. She advised me I was considered low risk and that I was on the call system,” he said.
“If the Secretary (of Education) saw fit to eliminate or reduce my suspension, I would most readily agree to any kind of periodic testing (that was imposed). I would also agree to any type of program, implemented by the Secretary, to speak to students about the dangers of the use of marijuana.”
Besides the SHS support, Koranda received support from the Sioux Falls Diocese, which comprises eastern South Dakota.
Matt Althoff, former diocesan chancellor, called for the DOE to change its decision. Althoff, himself a Yankton native and SHS graduate, reviewed Koranda’s background in his former role with the diocese.
During the review process, Althoff said he was aware of Koranda’s drug offense but saw another side of the man. In addition, Althoff has received anecdotes about Koranda’s impact on the entire school.
SHS remains grateful to keep Koranda at the school, at least for now, Anderson said.
“When a stay on the suspension was granted, we were happy to be able to put him back in the classroom,” the priest said. “We do understand that this stay on the suspension is temporary until the hearing of further arguments. But we are grateful for the time we do have with him, teaching at Sacred Heart Middle School.”
Koranda bases his appeal of the DOE decision on two grounds: whether the Secretary of Education and the Professional Teachers Practices and Standards Commission abused their discretion, and his right to present additional issues for consideration.
Koranda’s drug case in January 2022 received widespread attention because of its unusual circumstances.
Koranda, who lived with his mother, baked brownies using the butter. His mother inadvertently took the drug-laced brownies to a gathering of senior citizens, with five of those ingesting the brownies becoming ill and taken to an emergency room.
Authorities traced the brownies to Koranda, who later pleaded guilty to a felony offense of possession of a controlled substance, Schedule 1.
Koranda resigned as music instructor in the Bon Homme schools. He worked as music director at the Sacred Heart and St. Benedict churches in Yankton. Last fall, he was hired by Sacred Heart School as a full-time music instructor for the middle school (grades 5-8).
In his affidavit, Koranda said he was stunned at the DOE decision. When he received the complaint from the commission, his attorney advised him that he didn’t believe legal counsel was necessary at the hearing.
Anderson, who serves the school as part of ministry, and SHS principal Laura Haberman said they have not experienced any problems with Koranda during the school year. He has created an outstanding impact in working with the students, they added.
However, SHS officials also knew of his conviction and were cautious, Anderson said.
“We talked to the diocese and to past employers trying to make sure we weren’t going to be putting students at risk,” he said. “After conversation with all these entities, we came to the conclusion that Mr. Koranda had made a mistake, a significant one; but that it was one mistake within a strong career, and that he was truly remorseful. We decided that his good qualities and contrition made him worthy of another chance.”
The decision has been a good one, Anderson said.
“Since he has been hired, Mr. Koranda has been an enormous asset to our children and our school,” he said. “One of the great highlights was the Christmas concert, when all the students in 5th-8th grade sang together at the Bishop Marty Chapel at the (Sacred Heart) Monastery.”
In her affidavit, SHS Principal Laura Haberman said Koranda brought a humble heart to the job and has been a tremendous asset this school year. He has built relationships and camaraderie with students and staff.
“He has brought more musical talent to our children and adult choirs,” she said. “Staff have sung at Mass under his direction as well as band students join the choir for worship. His musical talent goes way beyond the classroom.
Koranda has actively engaged students and gained their attention and respect, she said.
“He raised the level of music and behavior expectations in our students, where we have never seen it before. He has truly shown our students what they are capable of and how to take their talents further in life. These skills will benefit them for years to come.”
About a half-dozen SHS parents wrote affidavits of support for Koranda, noting his kindness and including students in ways such as rotating lunchroom tables each day and eating with different students.
In his affidavit, Koranda wrote about his great lifelong love of music that began while growing up at Tabor and in the Bon Homme school district. He listed the various churches and schools where he has worked and the impact on his life.
“I have come face to face with my responsibilities to my students, to my school and parish, and to my entire faith community,” he said. “I have come to recognize that, if I were to continue to use marijuana, I would not just be letting myself down, but (I) would be betraying the interests of the students, parents and faith community which I have a strong desire to support.”
Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.
Yea you need known druggie teaching in school.
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