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Fivay teacher won’t be suspended after altercation, board says

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Published:   |   Updated: April 2, 2014 at 10:29 AM

LAND O’ LAKES — A Fivay High School teacher accused of shoving a 16-year-old student during a classroom altercation won’t face any discipline in the case.

The Pasco County School Board voted 3-2 today to overturn Superintendent Kurt Browning’s recommendation that language arts teacher Pamela St. Mary be suspended without pay for three days.

The decision came two months after board members heard testimony in St. Mary’s appeal of Browning’s recommendation.

Board members Cynthia Armstrong and Allen Altman sided with Browning. But a majority of the board — Chairwoman Alison Crumbley, Vice Chairman Steve Luikart and board member Joanne Hurley — said they did not believe the evidence they heard warranted suspension.

The case dates to Oct. 28, when the student became upset over a zero he received on a research paper. He initially cursed, then later said he would change his grade and grabbed St. Mary’s laptop. She approached him to retrieve the computer and said their shoulders inadvertently bumped. The student claimed she shoved him.

The student received a three-day out-of-school suspension.

Luikart said nothing in the testimony indicated anyone in the classroom saw St. Mary shove the student, despite his claim. Luikart, who is a retired assistant principal, said students often will make an accusation “to take the focus off themselves.”

He said apparently all St. Mary did was position herself between the student and her computer, and that led to the contact.

“We are considering that a violation,” Luikart said. “I have a hard time with that. In my experience, teachers have that authority in their classrooms to stand between their computer and a student.”

Crumbley said if she were in the classroom and “someone spoke to me in that fashion, someone much larger than me, I would be terrified.”

Crumbley and Luikart also said it wasn’t clear to them why an instructional assistant in the room did nothing to help or to call administrators to the room.

Armstrong, a former teacher, had a different take. She said it’s the teacher’s job to maintain order in the classroom and she expressed dismay that St. Mary would face no discipline at all. She also noted that the testimony revealed there had been previous complaints about St. Mary’s classroom management.

“As a former teacher, I am the person responsible for what goes on in that classroom,” Armstrong said. “It is my classroom and it is my responsibility to handle the students, no matter how big they are, no matter what they say.”

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