TALLAHASSEE — A Pinellas high school teacher accused of stuffing a ballot box to get her niece elected homecoming queen in 2006 avoided further state penalties Friday after completing her original punishment from the state Department of Education.
As part of her January 2009 settlement with the state, Sharion Thurman agreed to pay a $500 fine and take a college-level ethics course within the first year of a two-year probationary period.
She was called before a state teacher discipline panel because she had not paid the fine nor completed the course as of February. But education officials on Friday recommended against further sanctions because she had done both since then.
Thurman paid the fine April 22, the same day the Times published a follow-up story about her case. DOE received a transcript on Thursday showing Thurman earned an A grade for the online ethics course through St. Petersburg College.
During Friday's hearing, Thurman told the panel she "really learned a lot" from the ethics course. She said she would have taken the course earlier, but "life got in the way."
Thurman said both her son and mother had serious illnesses, forcing her to travel often between St. Petersburg and Fort Myers to care for her mother. She and other teachers at Gibbs High School, she said, are also adjusting to the F-rated school going through intense state oversight.
"I do recognize, as with my students, that there are things that come up," Thurman, 59, told the panel. She declined comment after the hearing.
Thurman, a 24-year veteran who made $61,050 last year, teaches students who are at risk of not graduating.
State records say she admitted to school officials that she stuffed the homecoming queen ballot box in 2006. Then-superintendent Clayton Wilcox considered firing her but recommended a suspension because the School Board follows a policy of "progressive discipline."
The board suspended Thurman for 25 days without pay. As part of her settlement with DOE, she neither admitted nor denied the allegations.
Thurman must still complete a teacher evaluation, but her punishment is largely finished.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected]