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Hernando teacher accused of grabbing students should be fired, superintendent says

BROOKSVILLE — The school district is maneuvering to fire an Eastside Elementary exceptional education teacher accused of improperly correcting disabled students by grabbing their arms, shoulders and clothing, the local teacher union president confirmed Friday.

Lisa Studer, 45, is accused of violating the district's ethics and professional conduct policy by inappropriately touching students who were not following directions, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

The district found evidence that Studer "overcorrected noncompliant students by putting hands on students, often grabbing and pulling or touching, and moving them either by their clothing, arm or shoulders," Vitalo said, reading from the district's termination petition dated May 13 and signed by superintendent Bryan Blavatt and School Board attorney Paul Carland.

The board is slated to consider Blavatt's recommendation in a special hearing on June 1, according to the petition. If the board accepts the recommendation, Studer has the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge, who would hear evidence and make a recommendation to the board.

"She feels like she would like to be heard," Vitalo said of Studer.

Studer, who has worked in the district since 1999, is suspended with pay, but the board at next month's hearing can change that to suspension without pay while an administrative hearing proceeds, Vitalo said.

Likely at issue is whether termination is an appropriate response to any policy violation Studer may have committed, Vitalo said. "A person may have done something wrong, but you want to make sure the consequence fits," he said.

Reached Friday, Blavatt declined to comment until the district's investigation report becomes public record Monday.

Clearwater attorney Mark Herdman, who Vitalo said is representing Studer, did not return a message left at his office Friday.

Studer was pulled from the classroom earlier this month while state and school district officials investigated allegations that she pinched the cheeks of an autistic student to get the student's attention, possibly on more than one occasion.

The Hernando Sheriff's Office found no basis for criminal abuse charges, but the Florida Department of Children and Families and the school district launched their own investigations.

The DCF investigation is still ongoing, a department spokeswoman said Friday.

A prior blemish in Studer's personnel file may be a factor in the district's decision to move for termination. In March 2009, she was the target of a similar investigation while working as an exceptional education teacher at Deltona Elementary in Spring Hill.

Studer faced allegations that she forced students' heads down onto desks with her hand and forcibly held at least one student's hands, an investigation report in her personnel file reveals. At least two paraprofessionals said they saw Studer hold down students' heads on desks, the report shows.

DCF and the Sheriff's Office investigated and determined there was no abuse. But Studer was given a written reprimand for violating the state code of ethics and professional conduct by failing to properly use crisis prevention intervention restraints, and for failing to inform administrators when students were restrained.

She was reassigned to another classroom and required to take a course in crisis prevention intervention, and she was warned that another incident of similar conduct could be grounds for termination.

Studer was transferred to Eastside, in the Hill 'n Dale subdivision, a few weeks later.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando teacher accused of grabbing students should be fired, superintendent says 05/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 12:37pm]
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