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Seminole High teacher who resigned had earlier complaint

A Pinellas County social studies teacher who resigned earlier this week amid charges that he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a female student had been accused of a similar offense before.

Back in 1999, a student who had been Thomas J. Anderson's teacher assistant at Seminole High School filed a complaint against him for rubbing her shoulders and lower back, documents in his disciplinary file reveal.

Anderson, 59, denied the charges and kept his job in exchange for a promise that there would be "no touching of any female in any way that could be interpreted as inappropriate."

According to the case report, Anderson "put his hand palm up like he would grab her buttocks." Former school principal Richard Duncan wrote in a memo that the girl who brought the charge said it was not an isolated occurrence.

Anderson told investigators at the time that the only incident he could recall that could remotely be construed as massaging a girl's shoulders involved a student who was upset over some family problems.

The current charge against Anderson surfaced in early February when a 16-year-old girl told Seminole High administrators that he took her to his house during the school day and asked her to give him a back massage in his bedroom.

Anderson, who also coached girls varsity basketball at the school, admitted that he took the student to his home so he could discuss some personal problems she was having. He denied receiving a massage.

That denial was of little consequence to James Lott, an administrator in the district's Office of Professional Standards.

"The mere fact that he picked her up and took her to his house, that in itself, tells me a teacher has crossed a line," Lott said in an interview Thursday. "It was exceptionally poor judgment."

Despite ethics training for all school staff members, Lott said, his office investigates between 15 to 20 teachers accused of engaging in inappropriate relationships with students each year. Most of the cases involve male teachers, Lott said.

Anderson's file contains details of the recent investigation, including notes from an interview with the girl in which she said she thought Anderson was taking her to a park to talk. She described for investigators the color of the comforter on Anderson's king-size bed, his request that she get on top of him to administer the massage, and the type of oil she used.

The file also contains a copy of a phone message for Lott in which Anderson, who is not a member of the teachers union, wanted to know if he would be eligible for free legal representation.

School district investigator Rick Stelljes said that while the school district has closed its investigation of Anderson, the case remains open with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Seminole High teacher who resigned had earlier complaint 03/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 1:57pm]
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