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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Scrapes, but no red flags in Freedom High School coach's file

2

December

The Hillsborough County school district released more information Wednesday about former Freedom High School girls track and cross country coach Dwight Smith.

The documents pointed to a spotty work record, but nothing that would suggest he engaged in a sexual relationship with an 11th grade student, as he is now charged.

Smith, 48, applied with the district in 2009 for work as a substitute teacher or assistant coach. He worked previously at the Tampa Sports Authority, and officials there confirmed that he was a personnel analyst. He was a business student at the University of Phoenx.

The district hired Smith in March 2009 to be an assistant track coach at Freedom. He held that position until January of 2011, when he became the girls' cross country coach. An arrest in February of 2011 almost derailed his career; Smith was accused of failing to return a computer to the Colortyme rental company, a third degree felony.

But after the arrest, Smith paid the money he owed and the owner asked that the charges be dropped. "The first meet is Thursday," he wrote in an email to the district on Feb. 16, 2011, asking that they let him return to work. "Also, my daughter is part of the track team." Then-principal Chris Farkas, now the district's chief facilities officer, cleared Smith to return to campus after verifying that the state would not prosecute.

In July of 2011, Smith was given a classroom position as a unique needs assistant. These are usually temporary jobs, providing one-on-one assistance to disabled students. He stayed on the job despite another arrest on June 6, 2012, for drunken driving. The police report said Smith was driving north on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard without using his headlights or tail lights, even though it was nearly 10 p.m. and raining. His eyes were bloodshot, he smelled of alcohol and gave inconistent responses about drinking.

Believing Smith was a substitute teacher, the district delivered a letter telling him his services were no longer needed. But that letter was issued by mistake, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja. Since he was a district employee and not just a substitute, he was able to stay on the job while his case progressed. He entered a not guilty and in early 2013 he was found guilty of a lesser charge of reckless driving.

Smith continued to coach and to work with disabled students, essentially getting rehired for a succession of temporary assignments. His title changed to Temporary ESE Paraprofessional 2 in August of 2015. He last earned $10.03 an hour.

Reports by the Gainesville and Tampa police reports allege Smith had sex with the 17 year old student athlete during out-of-town athletic events. She described it as consentual, but said she grew uncomfortable with the relationship. He was arrested this week in connection to the Gainesville trip in mid-September. 

But the school district's discipline report, while mentioning these two events, deals mostly with an allegation from Nov. 11.

According to the report, the 11th grade student told principal Kevin Stephenson that Smith showed up at her house that evening and was physically aggressive as he tried to have sex with her. After hearing a brief description, Stephenson stoppped the interview and summoned the school resource officer, Len Dawson of the Tampa Police Department. Smith was fired on the spot. Contrary to the Tampa police report, which described sexual acts that also happened in Titusville, the district report alleges it was Orange County.

It is not yet known if Smith will be prosecuted anywhere besides Gainesville.

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 5:13pm]

    

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