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Pinellas County teacher facing drug and alcohol charges is reassigned

LARGO — A Southern Oak Elementary teacher asked Pinellas County School Board members this question last week:

Why was teacher Luann K. Fernandez back at the school after being arrested in March in Tampa on charges of driving under the influence, fleeing to elude arrest and possession of marijuana?

Young students were asking questions, Tasha Johnson told board members on Tuesday. Parents didn't understand. Teachers were upset.

A School Board attorney cut Johnson off, saying the case was a potential disciplinary matter that might come before the School Board. School officials would only say Fernandez's case is under investigation.

But they acknowledged that the 55-year-old art teacher, employed by Pinellas schools since 1978, was transferred from Southern Oak to a "non-student work site" on March 22 after her March 17 arrest.

So when Fernandez showed up at the school on April 15 to reclaim her art teaching job, students were confused, Johnson said. That included her own 6-year-old daughter, who attends Southern Oak and asked about drugs and jail — a conversation Johnson wasn't ready to have.

"How do you handle that?" she said. "It puts us all in an awkward position."

Reached by the Times on Wednesday, superintendent Julie Janssen said she understood the perception the district had done something wrong, but "I can tell you every policy we have was followed."

On Thursday, a school district spokeswoman e-mailed the Times to say, "After a meeting with the principal, and in the best interests of the school, a decision was made to reassign (Fernandez) to a non-student work site."

Reached by phone, Fernandez said she had no comment. Court records show she pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanor charges.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Pinellas County teacher facing drug and alcohol charges is reassigned 04/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 5:45pm]
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