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Praised for his skill but criticized for his style, controversial Pasco teacher is in trouble again

By Jeffrey S. Solochek
Pasco County language arts teacher Michael Maynard at his home in Spring Hill. [BRENDAN FITTERER | Times]

A Pasco County teacher who was suspended in February for insulting students could lose his job after similar complaints surfaced at another school.

Michael Maynard, 62, was suspended without pay Tuesday as the first step toward dismissal, which superintendent Kurt Browning has recommended. Maynard stands accused of publicly questioning the gender identity of a transgender student, making fun of a student's Christianity, calling students "stupid" and "pathetic," and causing some students in his classes to cry.

"These were some of what we believed to be additional inappropriate behaviors at Anclote High School," Browning said. "They are some of the same patterns we saw at the other schools."

Maynard, who is challenging his proposed firing, was removed from River Ridge High School in February amid accusations that he made fun of a student for being gay, degraded students' religion and used profanity in classes, among other concerns.

He lasted seven days in his new job at Anclote before being asked to turn in his computer and keys. He said in an interview Tuesday that school leaders never asked him for his explanation of the student complaints.

"I knew I was walking into a trap," he said. "But it was a trap I had to walk into."

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After the troubles at River Ridge, Maynard took a leave of absence rather than accept his three-day suspension and a job at Wiregrass Ranch High, a longer drive from his Spring Hill home. Many of his former students defended Maynard — recognized this year by the Florida Department of Education as a "high impact" teacher — as one of their favorites.

On Friday, a top student at River Ridge gave him a shout-out during a graduation speech.

Maynard returned to teaching in May at Anclote High, saying at the time he was "quite happy" to be there.

Some of his new students and their families were not so thrilled. They began complaining soon after his arrival.

"I'm disheartened that my son and the rest of the AHS students will now be subjected to this kind of behavior from a teacher," Dawn Decker, a parent and district teacher, wrote in an email to Browning. "Mr. Maynard's teaching style is not only unorthodox, it is offensive."

Decker wrote disapprovingly of lessons in which students were told to defend "hate and intolerance" under the guise of debating. She suggested that while people deserve a chance to improve their behavior, "even in baseball, it's three strikes and you're out."

Anclote students submitted comments about Maynard's statements and actions, saying they felt insulted and stressed out. Some of their criticisms were mundane, with gripes about having to do difficult class work or turn off their cell phones in class.

Others made more pointed remarks.

"Mr. Maynard basically made fun of me for being a Christian," one student wrote.

"He was yelling at us since class started," wrote another. "We were going over the previous day's assignment, and he said basically it's stupid if we didn't know it."

One school employee wrote that Maynard made statements about a transgender student that made the student feel "extremely uncomfortable returning to that classroom."

Maynard said Tuesday he gave administrators a lengthy document detailing his view of what happened in his classroom, and how he was trying to instill discipline while teaching a curriculum.

He wrote of students who were confrontational, often late, rarely interested in their work, which seemed not to have been attempted in a long time.

He also noted in the document that he was not aware he had a transgender student in class when that student was offended, and that the discussion about "stupid" students arose when he questioned their preparation to that point in class.

The class had gone without a full-time teacher for a month when he arrived.

It was, he said, "a picture they obviously weren't interested in."

He said he hoped he could get his status resolved with Browning, before it goes to the School Board. He said he has asked for his lawyer and a union representative to meet with the superintendent later this month. The union, United School Employees of Pasco, said Tuesday it planned to participate in Maynard's defense.

Browning said Maynard's representatives had asked for a formal hearing on his status before the School Board. That meeting has not been scheduled.

Maynard, a district employee since 2003, previously has been reprimanded four times: in 2009, when his use of inappropriate language netted him an involuntary transfer from Land O'Lakes High to River Ridge; in 2010, when he called a student a "dirt bag;" in 2012, for "poor choice of words;" and in 2014, for profanity toward students and an "unprofessional reply" to a parent.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.