LAND O’LAKES — A 50-year-old elementary school principal was arrested Thursday after deputies said he stole money brought to school by a 9-year-old student with a mental disability, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
Connerton Elementary School principal Edward John Abernathy of Land O’Lakes is accused of stealing $900, deputies said.
On Oct. 22, the student brought $2,100 of his parents’ money to school. Once teachers realized he had, deputies said, they took it, counted it and locked it in the principal’s office. Abernathy returned to work the next day, deputies said.
The student’s mother went to collect the money on Oct. 26, deputies said, and in turn Abernathy handed her a wad of money.
As she was walking to her vehicle, she counted the cash and realized Abernathy had only handed her $1,200, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
She talked to her son’s teacher, thinking maybe there had been a mix-up with the count. She and her husband learned there hadn’t been, deputies said.
So she called the Sheriff’s Office, and on Thursday a deputy interviewed the family, Abernathy and school staff.
The deputy learned that Abernathy had counted the money himself and verified it was $2,100, and that he had later hidden it inside of a speaker on top of a shelf in his, according to his arrest report.
Abernathy changed the story he told the deputy several times, according to the Sheriff’s Office, even suggesting that the student could have taken the missing $900.
When the deputy told Abernathy that reaching the speaker — about 6 feet off the ground — would be hard for an elementary-age child, the principal said it would be "a bit of a reach," according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Abernathy, whose salary is $91,112, was booked into the Land O’Lakes Detention Center on a charge of grand theft. He was freed after posting $2,000 bail.
Pasco County schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said Abernathy will be placed on paid administrative leave while the district gathers more information about the arrest.