Friday, December 15, 2017
Education

Teachers' bullying complaints at Eastside Elementary were founded, but principal took no action

BROOKSVILLE — Three Eastside Elementary School teachers went to principal Tim Urban last April, claiming they had been bullied and harassed by another teacher.

One worried about the teacher's lack of boundaries, even around students. Another said she felt intimidated and emotionally and physically depleted by the end of the day. A third told of how an interaction had left her on the verge of tears, feeling threatened and scared.

They filed three formal bullying complaints, seeking action.

But they never got it.

While Urban determined the complaints to be founded, the investigation was filed into storage without district officials receiving notification — a violation of district policy and a move that prevented a fuller investigation.

The report resurfaced when a new principal took over this summer, but was subsequently closed without any further action being taken.

Heather Martin, the district's executive director of business services, acknowledged that the case is unusual. It is extremely uncommon, she said, for a case to be founded and then dropped without further investigation at the district level.

"I've never experienced that," Martin said.

• • •

First-grade teacher Donna MacDonald says she was often the victim of harassment or bullying by third-grade teacher Stephanie Kinkaid last school year.

Two incidents stood out.

MacDonald, who taught one of Kinkaid's children, wrote in a statement that Kinkaid approached her in the school office shortly after dismissal April 15. Kinkaid immediately began yelling, asking for a letter about services the county would and would not provide for her child, according to a complaint.

MacDonald said Kinkaid threatened to subpoena her and teacher Sonya Crawford and come after their jobs. Crawford also filed a bullying complaint, based partly on this incident.

A similar incident happened a few days later in MacDonald's classroom, with Kinkaid again aggressively asking for the letter.

"I was so afraid that she was going to get physical," MacDonald said.

She said she started locking her door and carrying a walkie-talkie.

Kinkaid denied the first incident ever occurred. She painted a starkly different picture of the second interaction, saying she never shouted or became angry or aggressive.

"It was a very quiet conversation," she wrote. "I believe that I said that I did not want any of this to go to court."

Crawford's bullying complaint revolves around two messages that were relayed to her by MacDonald. Both times, she was told that she needed to provide a letter regarding her son or risk being subpoenaed.

"It made me sick to my stomach and made me fear for my job," she wrote in a statement.

Kinkaid questioned Crawford's claims.

"The incident with Ms. Crawford is completely ludicrous because it is third-hand information," she told a Tampa Bay Times reporter.

The third complaint against Kinkaid involved Crystal Wiseman, a third-grade teacher who worked alongside Kinkaid.

On April 19, Wiseman said Kinkaid walked into her classroom to vent that two teachers were filing bullying complaints against her. Wiseman said Kinkaid was aggressive, hostile and angry.

She said she told her to calm down and focus on her students.

Kinkaid became irate, according to the complaint, telling Wiseman that she wouldn't understand because she's the "golden teacher who can do no wrong."

Kinkaid then left.

The interaction left Wiseman feeling uncomfortable.

"She is very short tempered and had exhibited patterns where she does not understand personal-space issues," Wiseman said.

Kinkaid adamantly denied the allegations against her and criticized the investigation.

"I've never done anything that I'm ashamed of," she told the Times. "I've never done anything that I've lied about."

Kinkaid said she feels she is being unfairly targeted because of issues related to her husband, Aaron Kinkaid, who is on unpaid suspension from the school district after sparring with officials on a host of issues.

"We both feel we are being targeted for being too kid-centric in our teaching philosophy ... and for being progressive in our pedagogy," Aaron Kinkaid wrote in an email to the Times.

• • •

Urban received the complaints in April and cut off contact among Kinkaid and the three teachers.

He launched an investigation, interviewed the accused and accusers and a few witnesses, gathering enough information to make a determination.

"After a thorough investigation, I have concluded that the allegations are founded," he wrote in a short letter dated May 3. "Although I am not at liberty to discuss the specifics, I have taken the necessary and appropriate disciplinary actions."

He added that all of the investigative materials would be forwarded to the district office, where another investigation would be conducted.

But that didn't happen.

The letter was never sent to the teachers involved in the case. No disciplinary action was taken. The information was never forwarded to the district.

According to district procedure, a principal is required to notify the district's human resources department after making a determination of founded or unfounded about a bullying complaint. The complainant and accused must also be notified of the outcome.

In addition, all documentation must be submitted to the department, which would then take any appropriate actions, including notifying the state Department of Education and recommending disciplinary measures.

Martin, the executive director of business services, says new principal Mary LeDoux was asked by one of the employees about the status of the complaint early in the school year. She dug around and found that Urban's letter was not sent and that the complainants were never notified.

She was told to wrap up the investigation and send it to the district, Martin said.

In a letter to Kinkaid dated Oct. 4, LeDoux wrote: "In light of the fact that I am newly appointed as principal at EES and unable to verify the diligence with which Mr. Urban conducted this investigation, and upon the recommendation of the superintendent, I am closing this case and no further action will be taken.

"I am hereby directing you to conduct yourself appropriately and professionally from this point forward in regards to your interactions with your colleagues."

Martin told the Times the case would have been investigated in greater detail had it been forwarded to the district office.

She said she could not confirm that a thorough investigation was conducted.

• • •

Urban was removed as Eastside's principal in late July, after the school received an F grade from the state.

He had been in the position for a year.

Now the principal at Endeavor Academy, the district's alternative school, he has not faced any disciplinary action tied to the bullying complaints.

He did not return several messages from the Times seeking comment.

District officials say they are looking into how Urban handled the complaints and is in the process of determining whether there will be a formal investigation into his actions.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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