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Pinellas school officials finally talk with Hopkins Middle principal Maureen Thornton

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas school officials have secured the final piece in an investigation involving a middle school principal by finally gaining access to the principal herself — who until last week had been on medical leave.

Maureen Thornton, who was removed as principal at John Hopkins Middle School on Dec. 4, had been off limits to district investigators since January. A district policy prevents administrators from interviewing employees who are the focus of investigations while they are under a doctor's care.

Officials in the district's Office of Professional Standards interviewed Thornton on Wednesday. They cannot say what prompted the investigation or release information on Thornton's testimony until superintendent Julie Janssen reviews the material and makes a determination based on the evidence, said School Board attorney Jim Robinson.

That determination could come as early as next week, at which point Janssen will make a recommendation concerning Thornton's fate to the School Board. The board's vote probably would come at its April 21 meeting, Robinson said.

In the meantime, Thornton could be placed on paid administrative leave or be reassigned. Bob Poth, who took over as principal at Hopkins in January, will stay until the end of the school year.

Officials have interviewed about two dozen people since launching the investigation in November.

Thornton, 50, moved to Pinellas in 2003 after 19 years as an educator in the St. Louis area. She came to work at Hopkins as a special education teacher.

She became an assistant principal at Safety Harbor Middle School and was appointed principal at Hopkins in 2005.

In February 2008, Thornton's estranged husband, Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, was killed by police after he went on a shooting rampage in Kirkwood, Mo., near St. Louis, killing five people during a City Council meeting.

Pinellas school officials finally talk with Hopkins Middle principal Maureen Thornton 03/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 11:05pm]
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