Hernando teacher accused of mishandling students moved out of classroom

BROOKSVILLE — Leslie Bolen and several other parents have hoped for months that the Hernando school district would keep from the classroom an exceptional education teacher accused of mishandling students.

Their wish has been granted.

Lisa Studer, who most recently taught exceptional education students at Eastside Elementary, will shift to a secretary position in the adult education program at Nature Coast Technical High School, according to a settlement agreement reached last week and obtained by the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday.

Studer, 45, faced termination in light of a district investigation that concluded she improperly handled students who were not following directions.

Both parties reached the compromise with the goal of keeping Studer employed but not in contact with students, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said Tuesday.

"There is credibility to the accusations, but you don't necessarily have to take away someone's livelihood," Blavatt said.

"As long as she has nothing to do with young kids," said Bolen, whose son was in Studer's class at Deltona Elementary in 2008. "That's all we ever wanted from this."

Last April, a parent told Eastside principal Bev Chapin that her son, a first-grade student with learning disabilities, claimed that Studer "pulled the chair out from under him" and "pulls him by the shirt," according to a subsequent investigation report.

Several teachers and staffers told school officials that Studer, who co-taught inclusion classes, was aggressive in her handling of students. One of her co-teachers kept a log of what she considered to be Studer's unacceptable behavior. Studer pulled on the arms and clothing of children, pulled on the shirt collar of a student who put his head down on his desk, and dragged one student across the room by his arm, co-teachers said. One teacher said she saw Studer squeeze a child's face and yell at him to look at her.

Studer denied the allegations and decided to fight the termination order, requesting a hearing with an administrative law judge who would hear evidence and provide a nonbinding recommendation to the School Board. As part of the settlement, Studer has agreed not to file a grievance or take any additional legal action.

During the investigation, Studer told school officials she redirected students only with verbal cues and that she couldn't understand why teachers and staffers would fabricate allegations, but she acknowledged that their relationships were strained.

"I would never touch a student," Studer told officials. "It's not in my nature."

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office determined the allegations did not rise to the level of criminal abuse. The status of an investigation by the state Department of Children and Families was unclear on Tuesday.

The district forwarded its findings to the state Department of Education. A department spokeswoman, citing state statute, declined to say Tuesday whether there is an investigation. Studer's teaching certificate is still valid through June of next year, records show.

Studer's attorney, Mark Herdman of Clearwater, did not return a message left at his office Tuesday.

Studer, who started with the district in 1999, was given a letter of reprimand last year for failing to properly use crisis prevention intervention restraints while at Deltona Elementary and for failing to inform administrators when students were restrained. She transferred to Eastside, in the Hill 'n Dale subdivision, a few weeks later.

Bolen's son attended an extended education summer program at Deltona and she met with school officials later to voice her suspicions that Studer mishandled her child, who has since transferred to a school in Pinellas County.

"In a way it's disappointing that Hernando County didn't take this as seriously as they should have from the beginning, and I don't see anywhere in there where she's going to be forever banned from teaching children," Bolen said. "But the short-term result, that she'll be a secretary dealing with adults, is tolerable."

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

Hernando teacher accused of mishandling students moved out of classroom 09/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 9:15pm]

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