BROOKSVILLE — One day last month, a female student sent Nature Coast Technical High School teacher and coach Ryan Wilson a text message.
The message read, in effect, "I'm sorry for pursuing you," according to documents released Monday from a subsequent school district investigation.
Wilson, who teaches physical science and career development, did not respond. The next day, the student showed up at his classroom and delivered the same message face to face, records show.
"That's when I told her I was an old man with kids and that I didn't know what she thought was going on," Wilson recalled during a hearing with school officials.
The text messages started in October, and by January, officials were investigating allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Wilson and the girl. Wilson, 29, who also is head coach for the boys track team and assistant coach for the football team, denied any such relationship.
Wilson was suspended with pay pending an inquiry, which found no evidence of a sexual or romantic relationship. School officials, however, sent Wilson a letter of reprimand and removed him as girls weight lifting coach. He cannot coach girls sports during a probationary period that will end in the fall of 2011.
Wilson should have reported the girl's behavior to an administrator and referred her to a counselor, officials said.
During Wilson's hearing on Feb. 1, the district's executive director of business services brought up two former Nature Coast teachers, Timothy Brightbill and Jamie Joyner.
Brightbill, the former band director, is serving prison time for a sexual relationship with a female student. Joyner, the former football coach, resigned amid an investigation into claims that he was having a romantic relationship with a female student.
"Given the circumstances of Brightbill and Joyner … help me to understand why you wouldn't do something or report this to someone if a student is pursuing you?" Heather Martin asked Wilson.
"I sit here now and looking back, yes, it was so obvious," Wilson responded. "But I didn't notice it at the time. Joyner was a good friend of mine. I said that was not going to happen to me."
Wilson said the red flag came with his November cell phone bill, which showed extra charges for a high number of text messages. Many of the messages came from the female student.
Efforts to retrieve the messages from Wilson's provider failed, according to the report.
In October, the girl had collided with another girl during a powder puff football game. The other girl was injured, and there were rumors that she might file a lawsuit.
Wilson, who was a referee during the game, said he sent the girl a text message advising her to be apologetic "and not take a harsh attitude as this could inflame the situation," according to his lawyer, Frances Perrone of Tampa.
The girl joined the weight lifting team and began confiding in Wilson. She didn't want to play softball anymore, she told him. He recommended she talk to her parents and coach.
The girl, who had a class with Wilson, also started to visit his classroom during other times of the day. Wilson said he overheard the girl talking about sex to classmates and warned her that such comments could hurt her reputation.
In January, the girl made comments to other classmates about not wearing underwear, which made Wilson uncomfortable. He asked for the student to be transferred to another classroom.
On Jan. 20, the girl showed up to tell Wilson she was leaving the state that day and apologized for pursuing him. She said, " 'I don't care if you're 19 or 29, I like you,' " Wilson recalled during a conference with Nature Coast principal Toni-Ann Noyes the next day.
Noyes told Wilson that the girl's mother suspected he was having an inappropriate relationship with her daughter, and that a couple of students and at least one staffer had the same suspicions. She asked him if he had had a sexual relationship with the girl, and Wilson said no.
Wilson, who is married and has children, was removed from student contact that day and suspended with pay on Jan. 25. A Sheriff's Office investigation found the allegations unfounded.
The district investigation concluded, and Wilson returned to his job on Feb. 8. In addition to the formal letter of reprimand and the loss of coaching assignments, Wilson must complete ethics training by September.
"(Y)ou exercised poor judgment in your professional responsibilities," the reprimand letter from interim superintendent Sonya Jackson states. "Specifically, you failed to report inappropriate and troubling behavior of a student, you put yourself in a compromising position by being alone with this student, and engaged in inappropriate and extensive text messaging with the student."
At the end of his hearing, Wilson said he was trying to offer the girl the same kind of guidance his coach provided him when he was a student.
"I didn't realize, but I know it was inappropriate and should have done something sooner, report it," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.