ST. PETERSBURG — The 26-year career of a Tarpon Springs Middle School science teacher will end in June after allegations of inappropriate classroom conduct with female students that span 14 years.
Richard Wisemiller, 61, who also is vice president of the Pinellas County teachers union, told school district officials he will retire June 6 in lieu of being fired.
His notice comes after Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a letter April 21 to the teacher that “probable cause exists” to justify sanctions against his teaching certificate. Those sanctions range from a reprimand to permanent revocation of his educator certificate.
Wisemiller was hired by the school district in 1988. The first complaint came in 2000 at Dunedin Highland Middle School, when he was accused of pulling a seventh-grade girl’s bra strap and shirt off her shoulder. Her parents requested he “never have physical contact with her, even if she was falling down,” according to school district reports.
The next year, students accused Wisemiller of having girls reach for a coffee can and then pinching their exposed midriffs. Wisemiller also admitted he allowed a female student to perform a “booty dance” on his birthday while he sat in his chair.
Michael Bessette, then-administrator for the school district’s Office of Professional Standards, wrote to Wisemiller: “You admitted that it made you uncomfortable, but that you did not make her stop.”
Wisemiller left Dunedin Highland in 2004 after the principal shared six other complaints from Wisemiller’s colleagues.
In 2005 at Eisenhower Elementary he was accused of pushing a girl during an argument. In 2007, while teaching at Tarpon Springs Middle, Wisemiller reportedly mentioned a failing student by name, told students they would end up in jail, and told another student she did something “because she was a blonde,” according to school district documents. The complaints continued this school year.
In October when a seventh-grade girl was elbowed inadvertently in the chest by another student, Wisemiller told the class her breasts were “non-existent or statements to that effect,” according to Department of Education documents.
On March 21, Wisemiller was accused of grabbing a student, “touching her ribs and lower breast area as he tried to move her,” and when a student came to his desk on March 31 to ask a question, “Mr. Wisemiller touched the student on her pubic line as he was retracting his hand after he threw away a piece of paper,” according to school district documents.
On April 10, as Wisemiller was teaching about opposable thumbs, he taped a seventh-grade girl’s thumbs to her fingers and told her to unbutton her pants in front of the other students. He then placed his fingers inside the waistband of her pants to “show the class the button,” according to Department of Education documents.
During the same lesson, Wisemiller told students to try unbuttoning their shirts without using their thumbs and suggested those without buttons could unbutton the girl’s blouse. Wisemiller said “ ‘who wouldn’t want to unbutton (her) blouse,’ or words to that effect,” according to documents. The students felt “embarrassed,” the report says.
Stewart’s administrative complaint found Wisemiller was “guilty of gross immorality or an act involving moral turpitude” and failed to protect students from conditions harmful to learning, mental health, physical health or safety.
Bruce Proud, executive director of the teachers union, said new union officers will take office June 15 and that he could not comment further on the case. Wisemiller has served as union vice president for seven years.
Wisemiller hasn’t been in the classroom since investigations began April 10, a month after he was a candidate for president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. He lost the election to Mike Gandolfo, a teacher at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School, getting 13 percent of the vote.
Attempts to reach Wisemiller and Tarpon Springs Middle School Principal Susan Keller on Tuesday were unsuccessful.