Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Upset teacher spars with Hernando School District

SPRING HILL — For nearly a decade, teacher Aaron Kinkaid received glowing evaluations from Hernando school administrators and could boast a blemish-free discipline record.

Then, in January 2010, Kinkaid sent two profanity-laced emails, one to a human resources staffer in the district office and another to one of his bosses, an assistant principal at Explorer K-8 School, where he taught at the time. He apparently was upset about what he contended was the district's lack of timely notification about a class required for his certification.

"Maybe if the people in your office had their heads out of their a---- you could have told me this in November when I signed up for the course," Kinkaid wrote to human resources coordinator Laurie Pellito. "The fact that you are telling ne this three days (and not even business days) before the deadling to register for this course shows the absolute lack of professionalism and the f------ lack of respect that your office has for the teachers here in this district. We will be meeting about this and I will be hiring an attorney ... be forwarned."

The misspellings are in the original text.

He signed the email, "No f------ thank you, Aaron Kinkaid, Technology Instructor."

It was the first of four disciplinary issues Kinkaid would face in the next 28 months. The most recent incident came Friday when, according to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office report, he left Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, where he teaches now, after calling school administrators "monsters" who were out to get him and one of his two sons who attend the school.

Administrators decided to put the school on a modified lockdown after Kinkaid left. Principal Sue Stoops and other staffers told a sheriff's deputy that Kinkaid's behavior made them worry about his well-being and the safety of students and staffers.

Kinkaid was not charged with a crime, but school officials say he left campus without authorization. Officials will now begin a standard investigation to determine whether there are grounds to discipline the 41-year-old Brooksville resident. In the meantime, he has been suspended with pay.

If the allegations are sustained, his recent disciplinary problems could be a factor in whatever punishment is meted out.

"I'm not going to recycle the past unless there's a pattern," superintendent Bryan Blavatt said. "My primary concern is looking at the incident that took place and getting good, detailed responses. That in itself is a difficult task."

Kinkaid maintains that he has been the victim of harassment on the part of school and district administrators for years.

"They just don't like me," he said. "I'm loud, and I don't stand for injustice. Any student or any person who knows me knows I'm the most levelheaded, easygoing teacher they've ever had. There's nothing in my case file to indicate that I should be removed from the classroom because I'm a danger to kids."

• • •

Kinkaid started with the district as a substitute teacher in 1998 and came on full time in 2001, teaching industrial arts at Springstead High School. His performance evaluations show he scored above standard in most categories.

He headed to Nature Coast Technical High in 2003, teaching engineering, manufacturing and information technology over the course of five years. Then-principal Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles gave him above standard marks in nearly every category.

Kinkaid scored an outstanding evaluation when he moved to Eastside Elementary the next year. And for the 2009-10 school year, Kinkaid rated satisfactory in all categories. That evaluation is the most recent available under public records laws.

It was in the middle of 2009-10 that officials determined he sent the two emails regarding his certification efforts. Kinkaid was apparently angry that he had been dropped from a class and would have to pay for the course himself.

"I can't f------- pay for this, I don't have the money ... so basically the dumba-- district is firing me (or non-reappointing me)," he wrote to Explorer assistant principal Dianne Azzarelli. "I may not be here tomorrow because I am going to the District office ... there may be fireworks."

Explorer principal John Stratton gave Kinkaid a formal letter of reprimand for what Stratton called inappropriate, threatening emails. Kinkaid was also offered services through the district's employee assistance program.

In a rebuttal letter, Kinkaid denied that his behavior was harassing or threatening. Explorer administrators, he wrote, were guilty of failing to provide him proper resources to do his job. He indicated he was a target of a conspiracy to get rid of him.

The next round of investigation came in April of last year. Kinkaid had moved from Explorer to Challenger K-8, where he taught elective classes in technology. Teacher Linda Lopez alleged that Kinkaid took a project she had developed for her eighth-graders and assigned it to his sixth-grade class. Lopez called it "intellectual theft."

Kinkaid told administrators that he had seen the project and memorized it while administering the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in Lopez's room, and that he told his students not to tell Lopez he had given them the assignment. At one point, Kinkaid called the incident a "witch hunt," principal Sue Stoops wrote in summary notes.

"I agree I was guilty of sharing an idea and using poor judgment," Kinkaid wrote in a rebuttal. He denied that he was guilty of stealing intellectual property, though. He alleged that his due process rights had been violated during the investigation, in part because the case had been closed before he had seen the evidence against him.

Stoops gave Kinkaid a formal letter of reprimand and ordered him to take ethics training and develop a professional improvement plan.

While that investigation was still ongoing, a parent told administrators that her daughter, a student in Kinkaid's class, said that he had directed students to lie about their ages in order to secure Yahoo email accounts. The parent, Renee Fischer, who was a teacher at Chocachatti Elementary, also reported that Kinkaid told her personally that he helped students circumvent the firewall on the district's computer network.

Kinkaid denied both allegations, writing in a rebuttal that he doesn't have the knowledge to go around the firewall. He said he has disciplined students for "poor decision making" when using the Internet.

School officials found that students had visited at least 180 pages that weren't related to the curriculum. However, Stoops sent Kinkaid a formal letter of direction that only referenced the falsifying of ages. As a result of the conduct, Stoops wrote, Kinkaid was to "closely monitor students' activity on the computers" and "continue to focus on classroom management."

• • •

About 8 a.m. Friday, Kinkaid tried to get into a leadership meeting in one of Challenger's conference rooms to tell those in attendance that they were "monsters," a report by Deputy Derek Origon shows.

Witnesses said Kinkaid, as he walked through the school's front lobby with his kindergarten son, yelled that he "didn't trust anyone and that everyone in the school was against them."

Assistant principal Michael Maine called Origon, who was acting as school resource officer at nearby Powell Middle School. Maine said he suspected that Kinkaid was distressed that his older son, a fourth-grader, had been the subject of an investigation after staffers found him in possession of firearm ammunition casings.

Origon was waiting when Kinkaid returned to campus later in the day. He was agitated, Origon wrote, and said that he thought school administrators were against him and his son, and that they target gifted students at Challenger by disciplining them for no reason. Kinkaid also reported that another Challenger teacher had recently battered him. The battery allegations are under investigation, a Sheriff's Office spokesman said this week.

Origon determined that Kinkaid had not broken any laws and did not need to be taken into custody under the state Baker Act, which allows authorities to detain people who may harm themselves or others.

Kinkaid told the Times he finally lost his patience after his older son was not allowed to use the restroom or get a drink during the discipline investigation the day before. That, he said, prompted him to leave with his younger son.

"You can harass me all you want," he said, "but do not mess with my family."

He said the decision to call the deputy was meant to harm his reputation.

"I believe my character has been defamed," he said. "No matter what I do to repair my reputation, the seed has been planted."

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed. Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected]

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