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Pasco teacher fired for punishing students over Facebook remarks

Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 07:56 PM

A teacher accused of retaliating against students who wrote derogatory remarks about her on Facebook has lost her job because of her actions.

The Pasco County School Board voted Tuesday evening to uphold Superintendent Heather Fiorentino's recommendation to fire Angelica Cruikshank, a Spanish teacher at Land O' Lakes High.

Cruikshank reportedly tried to punish the students by barring them from a field trip, and asked other students to help compile a list of their classmates who made the critical remarks about her. The teacher denied those allegations.

Board Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said that a review of the testimony from Cruikshank's appeal hearing before the school board in July convinced her that the superintendent's recommendation should be upheld.

"The one thing that really stood out in my mind is a teacher is a professional and needs to act as a professional and needs to recognize she is the professional in the room and the students are under her care," said Armstrong, who is a former teacher. "I don't think that happened."

Other board members said the teacher's testimony didn't mesh with events, while the testimony of students, school staff, parents and administrators were consistent.

"I thought, unfortunately, the testimony of the teacher was in discrepancy with the record," board member Allen Altman said.

Cruikshank was not at the board meeting and could not be reached for comment.

At the July hearing, several students testified that Cruikshank announced to their International Baccalaureate Spanish classes that those who wrote comments about her on Facebook wouldn't receive permission slips for a field trip to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.

Cruikshank, though, testified that wasn't the case. She said she simply ran low on permission slips and planned to get copies for the others by the next day.

"Maybe they felt excluded," Cruikshank said. "I did not purposely exclude them."

Cruikshank acknowledged that, after a student complained about bullying, she had been investigating the possibility of derogatory comments about staff and students on a Facebook page that freshman IB students created.

That student also marked a list of students to indicate who had access to the page, she said.

But Cruikshank said she never said anything that would lead the students to believe they were being punished because of negative remarks about her.

Cruikshank stopped short of saying that the students who testified had lied.

The student who created the Facebook page said the page was used so students could share information about homework assignments and other class information.

She and other students testified it was a private page and only International Baccalaureate students in the class of 2015 were invited to join.

One student testified that Cruikshank told her to log into Facebook on Cruikshank's cell phone so Cruikshank could get access to the IB students' page. The student said she told her mother when she arrived home that day. She said her mother told her to change her Facebook password and contacted the school to complain.

There was conflicting testimony about what kind of references to Cruikshank appeared on Facebook. Some students said there were just general comments from people upset about assignments, but other testimony indicated profane words were used and that some students wanted to get Cruikshank fired. (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @rblairTrib