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Hernando teacher resigns in student restraint case

BROOKSVILLE — Ann Guarnieri told school officials she was only trying to defend herself from an unruly student wielding crutches.

When the district moved to fire Guarnieri, an exceptional education teacher at Moton Elementary, for not properly restraining the boy, she decided to fight to keep her job.

Now, she has given up that fight.

Guarnieri, 56, has resigned as part of a settlement agreement reached last week. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt has withdrawn a petition for termination, and Guarnieri agrees not to file a grievance or pursue further legal action.

Blavatt called Guarnieri's decision a wise one.

"Obviously, it's time for her to move on," he said.

A school district investigation concluded that Guarnieri did not use the correct techniques to control the boy, who refused to go to the school's guidance office one day last May.

Guarnieri appealed Blavatt's recommendation to the School Board to fire her, and requested a hearing with an administrative law judge who would hear evidence and make a nonbinding recommendation to the board.

Her resignation was effective Sept. 9.

On May 13, the boy told an assistant principal that Guarnieri had held him by the shirt collar and grabbed his neck. During the investigation, a paraprofessional in the classroom on the day of the incident told school officials 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 boy, who'd recently suffered a sprained knee, refused to leave the classroom to go to counseling, Guarnieri told officials. 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 said she held the boy by his arm and shirt to escort him to the school office but denied grabbing him by the collar. She said the boy started to try to bite and kick and hit her with one of his crutches. 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 was trying to get him to stop without using force," Guarnieri said. "I guess what I did wasn't approved. I just wanted to protect myself."

Mark Herdman, the Clearwater attorney who represents Guarnieri, did not return a message left at his office Wednesday.

The district forwarded its findings to the Florida Department of Education, which does not confirm or deny a state investigation until officials have determined there is probable cause to warrant action against an educator's certificate. The state is not at that point, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Guarnieri has five state teaching certifications or endorsements including exceptional education for grades K-12, state records show. All are valid through June 2013.

Hired by the district in 1997 to serve as an ESE teacher at Brooksville Elementary, Guarnieri transferred to Moton last year. She 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. She was required to take a training course, among other actions.

Her personnel 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 ESE teacher to settle with the district in the last week.

On the same day Guarnieri signed her settlement, Eastside Elementary teacher Lisa Studer signed an agreement to drop her appeal of Blavatt's termination recommendation and take a secretary position in the adult education program at Nature Coast Technical High School. The district concluded that Studer pulled on the arms and clothing of children who would not follow directions. Studer disputed the findings.

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

Hernando teacher resigns in student restraint case 09/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 7:58pm]

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