Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tears, defiance mark hearing on former assistant principal at Rodgers Middle

Shawn Livingston says safety was a top priority.

Shawn Livingston says safety was a top priority.

TAMPA — Just before a three-day weekend last October, assistant principal Shawn Livingston had his hands full at Rodgers Middle School.

He dealt with a teacher accused of berating students and a student who had mocked another teacher.

A basketball game was planned with the air conditioning due to go out, and other administrators were away at meetings.

When the Riverview school reopened on Monday, Oct. 22, special-needs student Jennifer Caballero, 11, walked out of her gym class undetected and drowned in a nearby pond.

Livingston was fired three months later. On Tuesday, he tried to convince the Hillsborough County School Board that he did not act incompetently and that his career should not have been destroyed.

At issue is whether he should have acted on an Oct. 16 conversation about exceptional student education aides who sat on the bleachers during gym class.

"Plain and simple, this was a matter of inaction," said Karen Gabbadon, attorney for the school district.

Becoming emotional at times, Livingston said he wants to clear his name.

"As far as the death of a child, we all are responsible and we all play a part," he said when board member Candy Olson asked if he would accept any responsibility.

Garry Gawrych, the physical education coach who was teaching a combined class when Jennifer disappeared, said that at least twice he complained to Livingston about the aides.

"The aides weren't doing their job," said Gawrych, who later resigned. "They liked to sit a lot. I really didn't think that they paid enough attention to the kids."

He said he told Livingston, "I can't take this anymore; the aides aren't helping me."

Livingston denied those conversations took place.

The district, as evidence, used an Oct. 16 email from Gawrych to Livingston. It said, "I am sending you this email to remind you to speak with the aides."

Livingston said he was not concerned about safety when he asked for the email. Rather, he said, he walked into Gawrych's class and saw some students playing basketball while others sat around with the aides.

He felt the kids were not getting the instruction they needed, he said, but did not think the matter was urgent. So he tended to the other issues on his plate.

Tuesday's testimony showed how the school struggled to give its ESE students an appropriate experience during times they were included with their nondisabled peers.

When possible, ESE students took P.E. in a multipurpose room that was considered safer than the gym. But when P.E. teachers did not come to work, classes often were combined. Gawrych was asked what training he had in special-needs physical education. "None," he replied.

Livingston, meanwhile, was a new administrator when he came to Rodgers in summer 2012. He had been to two or three days of training, he said.

He said that months before the drowning he identified safety issues at the school, including a large pothole and what appeared to be ceiling mold, and tried to get the district to address them.

"I tried to head things off," he said. "I've done everything I could to make sure everyone was safe on the campus."

Two ESE aides were fired after Jennifer's death. Two more left voluntarily, along with Gawrych.

If Livingston prevails, he could be eligible for four months' back pay. He and principal Sharon Tumicki were offered demotions in January. While Livingston filed a grievance, which removed the option of working as a teacher, Tumicki was transferred and given the rank of assistant principal.

Through tears, Tumicki praised Livingston. "He is incredible," she said. "He is so great for the kids. He is a leader. He is fun. I couldn't keep up with him."

Tears, defiance mark hearing on former assistant principal at Rodgers Middle 08/06/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 6, 2013 11:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Florida's school grades improve as educators get the hang of a new system

    Testing

    Following a trend, Florida's school grades showed strong gains in the third year after the state changed its grading formula and the standardized tests that students take every year.

    After finding out earlier Wednesday that her school went from a low C to an A,  Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates with her students in the YMCA After School program at the school in St. Petersburg. Houston is giving a high five to rising fifth grader Jonaven Viera. Rising 4th grader Jonathan Cafaro is in foreground with his back to camera. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  3. Tampa Bay woman, 11-year-old boy had sex up to 20 times the year their baby was born, detectives say.

    Crime

    TAMPA — A woman sexually battered an 11-year-old Brandon boy, got pregnant and raised the baby for three years before a tip led to her arrest, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said.

    Marissa Mowry, now 25,  had sex as many as 20 times in 2014 with a boy who was 11 when he impregnated her, Hillsborough County detectives allege. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
  4. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  5. Mariners lose lefty Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery

    Ml

    SEATTLE — Drew Smyly was the centerpiece to one of Seattle's many offseason moves by general manager Jerry Dipoto. He was a priority acquisition as a proven lefty for the rotation the Mariners believed would thrive pitching at Safeco Field.

    Drew Smyly will undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Seattle announced the diagnosis on Wednesday, ending Smyly's hopes of returning during the 2017 season. [AP photo]