Gaither teacher sues, says district fired him without considering medical condition
By his lawyer's own description, science teacher Phillip Sanchez got silly sometimes.
In 2010, officials said, he used a self-made shocking device on a student. In 2011, they suspended him for three days for shocking another student.
There was a tug-of-war in June 2014 over a cell phone. One more inappropriate interaction with a student, they warned him, and you're fired.
It didn't take long. Days after the 2014-15 school year began, Hillsborough County school district investigators found that Sanchez shot a rubber band, hitting a student in the face. They called the act "battery" and part of "a pattern of poor decision making." Superintendent MaryEllen Elia recommended that he be terminated from his job at Gaither High School.
But it took more than a year for Sanchez, 41, to get his hearing before the elected School Board, which upheld the firing by a 4-2 vote.
Now Sanchez is suing the district.
It turns out he was silly for good reason: A psychiatrist, brought into the picture after the district moved to fire him, said he had undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, something that could be treated with medication and therapy.
Sanchez is an excellent teacher, according to his lawyer, Mark Levine, who arranged for the psychiatric evaluation. Levine says the school district violated Sanchez' due process rights by not allowing the medical testimony.
The two sides disagreed as to whether the medical evidence was presented too late in the process. There were other issues too, including whether Levine should have a chance to question Elia (who, by that time, had been fired herself).
The suit, filed Nov. 30 in Hillsborough Circuit Court, asks for Sanchez to be reinstated with back pay and benefits. Records show he joined the district in 2004.
Jim Porter, the school board's attorney, said he could not comment on pending litigation.