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Gibbs teacher in hot water again over stuffing of homecoming ballot box

ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas high school teacher accused of stuffing a ballot box to help her niece become homecoming queen in 2006 is in hot water again.

The state board that disciplines teachers has ordered Gibbs High English teacher Sharion Thurman, 59, to appear before it next month because she failed to meet the terms of a settlement stemming from the ballot box allegations.

She now faces the possibility of additional sanctions, including suspension or revocation of her teaching certificate.

The settlement, approved in January 2009, ordered Thurman to pay a $500 fine and take a college-level ethics class within the first year of a two-year probationary period. The state says she did neither.

Thurman declined to comment Wednesday. But she told a state compliance officer in late February that she would pay the fine by the end of March and enroll in an ethics class at St. Petersburg College in May.

"I am currently a doctoral student in dissertation stage at Argosy University, Tampa Campus, and am striving to finish," Thurman, who was making $61,050 a year last year and teaches students at risk of not graduating, wrote in a Feb. 27 e-mail. "Most important, I am teaching at Gibbs High School, which received a school grade of F this past school term. … Our goal at Gibbs is to get a B this time, and we are busting our butts trying to make it happen.

"I realize the seriousness of this case, and am striving to comply with its direction," she concluded.

Thurman's case resurfaces just days after Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed Senate Bill 6, controversial legislation that would have made it easier to fire teachers. Florida teachers have due process protections built into state law, including the right to a hearing before an administrative judge.

State records say Thurman admitted stuffing the ballot box to school officials. Then-superintendent Clayton Wilcox said firing was an option, because her record included other write-ups for poor judgment, insubordination and misconduct. But because her last disciplinary action in 2005 resulted in a reprimand, and the School Board follows a policy of "progressive discipline," he instead recommended a suspension.

The board suspended Thurman for 25 days without pay. The state sanctioned her, but in the settlement agreement she neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

Thurman is a 24-year teaching veteran. According to her personnel files, authorities reprimanded her in 1993 and 1997 for poor judgment; in 1998 and 1999 for issues with lesson plans; in 1999 for not following school grading policy; and in 2005 for not following board policy regarding controversial material. In 1987, the School Board suspended her for three days for inappropriate class management.

Thurman's behavior over the years has raised eyebrows in other ways.

In a February 1999 letter to the district office of professional standards, Thurman wrote this in response to potential disciplinary action: "Who do you white people think you are, that, because other people — parents, administrators, and so on — tell you such and such is, you go on their word without talking to the principal character — me, or others like me? … Because I am African-American, and because in no uncertain way I am not your pliable, amenable, acceptable Negro, then you look for ways to, in the words of the teacher masses, 'get me.' "

State records also show Thurman continued calling attention to herself after the ballot box discrepancies were uncovered.

Then-principal Antelia Campbell wrote in a statement that after a revote, she announced the king and queen and stood next to Thurman while the winners were being driven around the track. She said Thurman "stated to me, 'No matter what you'll say, (name blacked out) is the queen!' "

Thurman's case is scheduled to be heard in Tallahassee May 14.

The outcome really depends on the circumstances, said Kathleen Richards, executive director of the Education Practices Commission. She recalled similar cases that resulted in an extended probation, and others that resulted in suspensions of teaching certificates.

The commission still has not received payment from Thurman for the $500 fine, Richards said.

Kevin Gordon, who became principal at Gibbs in the summer, said Thurman told him Wednesday she planned to pay the fine and complete an online ethics course by the hearing date.

"She's not doing a bad job this year," he added.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Gibbs teacher in hot water again over stuffing of homecoming ballot box 04/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 11:33pm]
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