BROOKSVILLE — The student had a history of defiant behavior but was being especially difficult one morning last month, the teacher recalled.
The boy in an exceptional education class at Moton Elementary refused to leave the classroom to go to counseling, teacher Ann Guarnieri would later tell school officials. The boy, who'd recently suffered a sprained knee, started to try to bite and kick and hit Guarnieri with one of his crutches, she recalled.
Guarnieri said she held the boy by his arm and shirt to escort him to the school office, according to the school district's investigation report.
"I was trying to get him to stop without using force," Guarnieri said.
Now, Guarnieri will have to fight to keep her job.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt is recommending that the School Board fire the 56-year-old Spring Hill resident for improperly restraining the boy and failing to properly address his behavior, according to a petition for termination. The board will consider the petition at a special meeting on Tuesday.
After the May 13 incident, the boy told assistant principal Mark Griffith that Guarnieri had held him by the shirt collar and grabbed his neck. Guarnieri denies grabbing him by the collar.
She told officials she did not use a "crisis prevention intervention" hold — crossing his arms and holding his hands behind him — because she didn't want to embarrass the boy in front of other children.
"I guess what I did wasn't approved, I just wanted to protect myself," Guarnieri said. "I had to protect my face."
Guarnieri said the boy had been walking that day without crutches and apparently didn't need them.
David Price, a paraprofessional in the classroom, said he saw Guarnieri push the boy from behind toward the classroom door with a hand "somewhere around the neck area and another one on the arm."
The two struggled down the hall and Price heard Guarnieri say the boy was trying to bite her. Price said he offered to take the boy the rest of the way to Griffith's office and did.
Still photos from video recorded by a camera in the hallway show Guarnieri struggling with the student, who is holding crutches, as they make their way down the hall. In one photo, Guarnieri is holding the boy by the arm. In others, her arm appears to be around the boy's neck and shoulders.
Guarnieri and Price told officials the boy is usually defiant but not often aggressive. School officials noted during the investigation that his behavior plan states that during a crisis, teachers are to use non-physical methods or CPI holds.
Guarnieri tended to pay extra attention to the boy, Price said.
"He was like her special project," he said. "She really works hard with that boy to get him to cooperate and he just won't. I can't remember ever seeing her do anything inappropriate."
Guarnieri was removed from student contact after the incident and then suspended with pay on June 2.
Guarnieri plans to appeal the decision and ask for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. Typically, that prompts the School Board to suspend a teacher without pay until the hearing is held. The judge's recommendation is not binding on the district.
Hired by the district in 1997 to serve as an ESE teacher at Brooksville Elementary, Guarnieri transferred to Moton last year. She has received generally positive evaluations.
But in 2008, she received a written reprimand after district officials concluded that her hand hit a student's face as she was trying to restrain him. Officials also found that she made a male student who wet his pants undress in the presence of a female student. She was required to take a CPI training course, among other actions.
Her file contains another reprimand letter from last September, when officials found that she put a pillow over the mouth of a crying student. Guarnieri denied the allegation but said it could have been accidental. She was required to take training courses in ethics and classroom management.
During both investigations, paraprofessionals told school officials that Guarnieri made them feel uncomfortable because of her rough handling of students.
Guarnieri is the second Hernando teacher in recent weeks to face accusations of failing to properly handle an exceptional education student.
Lisa Studer, an exceptional education teacher at Eastside Elementary in Brooksville, is appealing a recommendation for termination after the district concluded that she often pulled on the arms and clothing of children who would not follow directions. Studer disputes the findings.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]