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Dismissed last year in Pasco, teacher now on leave from Hillsborough school

TAMPA — Teacher Jeffrey Shank lost his job at Pasco County's Gulf High School for sending inappropriate text messages to a female student.

That was five months ago.

The Hillsborough County school district hired him this year to teach science at Freedom High School in New Tampa.

Now he's on leave.

District officials would not give any details Friday about why Shank was taken out of the classroom on Oct. 12.

There was no letter, said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, just a telephone call telling him he should stay away from the school. There is an investigation, Cobbe said.

"I've been advised not to talk about it," Shank said. But, when asked whether there were allegations of impropriety at Freedom, he said, "No. God no. Are you asking me if I texted a female student? Not at Freedom."

Cobbe confirmed that the investigation has nothing to do with anything at Freedom.

It's unclear whether Hillsborough officials knew about the incident at Gulf, which was reported by the Tampa Bay Times, when they hired him.

If they did know, why didn't it matter? If they didn't know, why didn't they check his background or merely do an Internet search?

Cobbe said she could not answer those questions, pending the outcome of an investigation.

Hillsborough is the fourth Tampa Bay-area school district where the 33-year-old Shank, who is originally from Michigan, has taught science and coached basketball or football or sometimes both.

• • •

New teachers routinely are advised not to place themselves in situations that could be misconstrued, not to become Facebook friends with their students, not to meet with a student behind closed doors.

Shank said he learned that lesson while working at Hernando High School.

He was walking to campus one day in December 2008, carrying bags of equipment, when a female student offered him a ride from one part of campus to another.

"I took it as a student being nice to a teacher," he said. He was probably in the car for under a minute, he said.

When an administrator later asked whether he had been riding around with a student, he said no at first, then realized what the issue was and gave an explanation.

He received a warning not to ride with students or give them rides. He was also advised to answer truthfully when asked such questions, so as not to look guilty.

In 2010 he took a job at Seminole High School in Pinellas County. There were no problems there, he said.

At the end of the school year, he got a chance to be the head basketball coach at Gulf. He told a reporter he was impressed by players he had seen at a Pasco recreation center.

"When that opportunity came up, it felt like the right thing to do," he said at the time.

He coached the Buccaneers to a 10-14 record.

• • •

But in May, Pasco officials said he had an inappropriate text conversation with a female student.

In a 10:45 p.m. text, he said the student should have come to class to work on a project.

"BTW we need to chill one day," he continued.

The girl responded, "LOL yeah definitely."

"Especially after the way (your) a-- looked at me today LOL," Shank replied.

The student's parent showed the texts to district officials.

Shank now says there was more to that story. However, he declined to elaborate.

But he acknowledged it was wrong to send the texts.

Because he was in his probationary year, Pasco school officials simply let him go without renewing his contract.

Staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Dismissed last year in Pasco, teacher now on leave from Hillsborough school 10/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 10:14pm]
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