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Question of truthfulness behind Freedom High teacher's leave, district says

TAMPA — The question of who-knew-what continues to dog Jeffrey Shank, who is waiting to hear whether he can return to work teaching science at Freedom High School.

Shank, who had lost his last teaching job at Pasco County's Gulf High School for sending inappropriate texts to a female student, said that until now he did not know why he was placed on leave from the New Tampa school on Oct. 12.

On Monday, the Hillsborough County school district disclosed the reason: Officials are investigating whether he was truthful about why he left Gulf and whether the circumstances of his departure were shared with Freedom principal David Sheppard.

Shank says he was truthful.

"Ever since I was 17, I wanted to be a teacher," he said Monday. After stints at Hernando High and Pinellas County's Seminole High, Shank spent a year at Gulf, where he was also the head basketball coach.

His late-night texts to a student in May — including one that suggested they "chill" together and another that complimented her "a--" — cost him his job. He was in his first probationary year, so the Pasco district chose not to renew his contract.

The incident was reported at the time in the Tampa Bay Times.

Shank interviewed in at least five schools during the summer, he said, disclosing the Gulf scandal at each one.

"I had pretty much given up on ever teaching again," he said. "I screwed up, and I knew I screwed up." He accepted a job in insurance sales.

But then, he said, the Freedom principal called him. Within 24 hours, he said, the job was his.

As Shank recalls it, he told Sheppard why he had been released from Gulf. The district denies this assertion and said Sheppard could not comment because of the investigation.

In addition to teaching science at Freedom, Shank helped coach the football team.

It was the head football coach, he said, who told him that someone had shown him a news article about the Pasco incident. Shank spoke to Sheppard, who referred the matter to the administration.

Shank said he realizes the case hinges on credibility.

"And whose word are you going to believe?" he asked. "A teacher who did a stupid thing or the principal?"

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Question of truthfulness behind Freedom High teacher's leave, district says 10/29/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 29, 2012 11:24pm]
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