Blind gym teacher Steve Sloan probably never thought in a million years that using Listerine after a spicy lunch to help keep his breath smelling fresh would lead to his dismissal. But that’s exactly what happened after a parent accused him of being drunk, saying that it wasn’t Listerine that she smelled on his breath; it was alcohol.
The popular coach, who had been hailed for many years for overcoming his disability and successfully carving out a career in education, was fired after 29 years of service.
Missee Harris reports that the 60-year-old Harlem resident was completely sober, according to colleagues, friends, and students, despite the parent’s claim. Several of them attested that he was scrupulous about his hygiene and cleanliness and that rinsing his mouth with Listerine was a regular part of his daily routine.
Teacher Lisa Ortiz spoke out on his behalf.
“The DOE took an outstanding career and trashed it. The students respected him….he was amazing.”
According to additional reports, the teacher was charged with drinking on the job and sexual harassment. It is said that he joked with a few of the moms present at the school about going on a “blind date.” Colleagues say that he used this joke as an ice breaker so that others would not feel uncomfortable around him due to his disability. The parent was at the school setting up for a party when the alleged incident occurred.
Sloan was interviewed by The New York Post and stated his mindset on being fired.
“I’d rather retire than have a bad record.”
The teacher indicated that he just did not have it in him at the time to challenge the Board of Education’s ruling after he was fired.
Sloan was born with macular degeneration but did not let this hinder him from pursuing a career in education. He was nominated by actor Tony Danza to carry the Olympic torch in Italy in 2006. A former principal who worked over him for 14 years said that the fired teacher contributed greatly to the school’s success: always arriving early, volunteering for lunch duty, chaperoning class trips, and running after school programs. She also said that he commanded great respect from the students. A simple clearing of his throat would cause them all to fall in line at any given time.
The fired teacher knew the layout of his school so well that he did not have to use a cane. He taught exercise and sports with the help of an assistant.
On October 30, 2014, the parent claimed that she smelled alcohol on his breath and so decided to rummage through a trash can in the teacher’s office. The trash can was located near a doorway that led out to a busy street. She said that she found a Styrofoam cup that she had seen the fired teacher’s assistant carrying earlier. She said that the “brown liquid” that it contained smelled like liquor. She admitted that she never saw Sloan himself carrying the cup, but she accused Sloan of drinking.
The teacher adamantly denied ever drinking on the job during his interview with the New York Post.
At his hearing, he made a heartfelt statement.
“I cherish my job. Ain’t nothing for me to do but to teach physical education and work with my children. So why, after 30 years, would I risk or jeopardize that?”
Sloan said that he used a bottle of Listerine’s original formulation to rinse his mouth after he ate a spicy lunch. This particular formulation contains 26.9 percent alcohol.
Despite being fired, Sloan was able to negotiate a settlement with the Department of Education in August after agreeing to retire. He was disheartened though because he was not allowed to even go back to the school where he had taught for so long to say good bye to his colleagues and students.
[Photo by Tim Boyle / Getty Images]