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Largo principal accused by woman who committed suicide is cleared

LARGO — A Pinellas County schools investigation has found insufficient evidence to substantiate allegations that Largo Middle School principal Fred Ulrich harassed a teacher who committed suicide.

The investigation by the district's Office of Equal Opportunity released this week also found Ulrich properly handled student discipline problems.

Teacher Linda Joy Taylor, 47, shot herself in front of the school Dec. 22 during Christmas vacation. Stress over alleged improper advances from Ulrich and his mishandling of a threat from a student led Taylor to take her own life, according to her parents and her suicide note.

The threat "was the tipping point that cost Linda's life," Gene Taylor, her father, said Thursday.

The investigation cleared Ulrich of allegations of unprofessional conduct. But records obtained from the Largo Police Department and the school system show other teachers were worried about their own safety and some students several years ago were uncomfortable with Ulrich's behavior toward them.

E-mails between Linda Taylor and school personnel showed she was upset about the threat and rumors a group of students wanted to jump her when she returned from Thanksgiving break.

On Dec. 1, Largo Middle School teacher Gail George-Coppens wrote an e-mail to assistant principal Jennifer Wyne, saying she overheard an eighth-grade boy mutter "under his breath that he would like to kill (Ms.) Taylor."

"The only reason I am reacting to this is because of the ongoing concern I have about whatever dwells deep within (the boy)," George-Coppens wrote.

Another teacher, Cindy Snow, was concerned about the incidents. Ulrich wrote back saying the boy was being disciplined. Records show he was suspended for several days.

A threat assessment determined the boy was not capable of carrying out the threat, the investigation said. "I did not find him to be a threat to her in any way," school resource officer Chris Burke said Thursday. "I'm afraid it was her paranoia that made him into a threat."

The parents agreed to transfer the boy to another school.

Taylor also alleged that Ulrich kissed her several times on the cheek and hugged her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. Ulrich admitted he hugged Taylor on two occasions.

The situations did not "appear to be an advancement of a sexual nature," the investigation found.

Taylor indicated during the investigation that she did not feel sexually harassed, but rather subjected to unprofessional behavior. Teachers and administrators interviewed for the investigation disagreed.

In the fall of 2005, some students were also uncomfortable with Ulrich's behavior toward them, according to an investigation by the district's Office of Professional Standards.

The situation began with a complaint from a mother whose daughter was uncomfortable with how Ulrich looked at her and touched her back. Six other students said they were uncomfortable with the way Ulrich looked at them or touched their arms or backs, case records said. The allegation was deemed "partially substantiated." Ulrich was counseled.

He said he was looking at students to enforce the dress code and that encouraging pats on the back were misconstrued.

"My intentions are noble," said Ulrich, who was new to the school in 2005. "They just were misinterpreted."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Largo principal accused by woman who committed suicide is cleared 01/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 10:42pm]
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