WESTCHASE — The mother became suspicious of Tammy Renee Clinton when she started showing up at the parent-teacher conferences.
Her son, the mother said, was not in any of Clinton's classes at Farnell Middle School.
Yet the eighth-grade geography teacher seemed to always be around her son, the mother said.
So she sat him down and asked if everything was okay. She repeated a lesson she had taught him early on: "If you can't tell me what's happening, you have to tell somebody."
He did. Authorities say he told a school official last week that Clinton's made sexual advances. Then, he told his mother everything.
During a tearful interview at their home Monday afternoon, the mother, whom the St. Petersburg Times is not identifying because of the nature of the charges, talked about her suspicions, how proud she is of her son for stepping forward and about the blind trust students have for teachers.
"(My son) is not the bad person here," the mother said. "He's not the type of person who makes things up. Reporting it was excruciating and painful. He relied on her and he trusted her."
Clinton, 39, of 15613 Eastbourn Drive in Odessa, is accused of forcing the boy to touch her breasts as she groped his buttocks and of trying twice to arrange to meet him off campus for sexual activity, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies arrested Clinton on Thursday on two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation and two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct. She has been released on $30,000 bail. Clinton, who could not be reached for comment on Monday, was suspended by the school district with pay.
She is at least the sixth female Hillsborough teacher arrested in recent years on charges involving inappropriate sexual behavior with students.
There are no other known victims in this case, said sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
Clinton taught at Farnell for eight years. She was a popular teacher who wore fashionable clothes that her students also found cool — especially her Chuck Taylor Converse shoes.
The mother said she became so concerned about Clinton's behavior that she started asking about her background at school.
"She seems very involved in his education. Who is she?" the mother recalled asking. "Why is she giving him so much attention?"
In addition to Clinton's presence at his conferences, there were many other instances, other red flags, that made the mother uneasy, but she would not say what they were because the case is still under investigation.
Principal John Cobb sent out a recorded message to parents Thursday evening alerting them to the arrest. There was no school Friday, so parents and students were left wondering — and talking — for three days. Cobb called the family Sunday night to check on the boy's welfare, his mother said. The boy did not want to go to school Monday, but changed his mind.
On the way to school, she warned him that people were going to talk. "People are going to say, 'we know what happened,' " she said. "They're just words. You don't engage in that."
Indeed, at school, rumors and gossip swirled, students said, but teachers kept a tight lid on it.
Patricia Dunnerparker, whose son is in seventh grade at Farnell, said they used the opportunity over the weekend to discuss bullying, self-awareness and inappropriate behavior.
"If you feel awkward, speak up," she told him. "And whatever you hear about what may have happened, don't repeat it."
Jill Amore, president of the Farnell PTSA, said she was glad her daughter attends Farnell.
"I know she feels very safe," Amore sad. "We have a wonderful guidance staff and wonderful teachers. It's a tragedy that it happened at all."
The boy's mother, meanwhile, said she believes that instructors are becoming too chummy with their pupils.
"As parents, we have to be looking harder and deeper into the types of relationships that could develop between teachers and their students," she said. "I just hope (Clinton) gets whatever help she needs."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)909-4613.