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'Wizard' teacher sues Pasco schools

LAND O'LAKES — The substitute teacher who claimed the Pasco school district fired him for "wizardry" last year has one more trick up his sleeve — a lawsuit accusing the district and two employees of slander, libel, defamation and interference with his ability to get a job.

A lawyer for Jim Piculas, whose story made national news as it spread across the World Wide Web, notified the school district six months ago that he would sue unless they could reach a settlement. This week, Tampa-based attorney Jeffrey "Jack" Gordon said, he is making good on that threat.

He e-mailed a copy of the complaint, which had not been recorded in Pasco circuit court late Monday, to the St. Petersburg Times.

In it, Gordon alleges that letters and statements by district officials, specifically Rushe Middle principal Dave Estabrook and substitute teacher coordinator Patricia Sinclair, damaged Piculas' reputation and drew him into "public scandal and disgrace."

The officials stated last spring that Piculas had failed to follow lesson plans and had used foul language in front of students, among other complaints about his performance. Documents including these statements became public after Piculas went to a local television station seeking attention for his story, in which he said the district fired him for "wizardry" — a contention that district leaders denied.

They produced the letters and forms to demonstrate the firing had to do with Piculas' classroom performance, and not because he did a magic trick to make a toothpick "disappear."

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said he had not seen the lawsuit. He acknowledged that the district made no effort to deal with Piculas after receiving his legally required notice to sue back in July.

"We stand by the internal investigation that there was nothing inappropriate in his termination," Alfonso said.

In the lawsuit, Gordon argues that Piculas — who has said he wanted to be a full-time teacher — has lost professional and business contacts because of the damage to his reputation.

He contends that statements such as "Piculas violated school policies" are false.

Piculas "has taken some jobs here and there, but none of them has been as a substitute teacher or in the teaching industry," Gordon said. "He really feels blackballed."

Nowhere in the complaint does the word "wizard" appear.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

'Wizard' teacher sues Pasco schools 01/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 9:16pm]
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