ST. PETERSBURG — The girl's mother thought the visit to Lowry Park Zoo was a school field trip. Police say it was more like a date.
A science teacher at Gibbs High School has been charged with interference with child custody after police say he used a teacher's discount card to take a 16-year-old girl to the zoo.
St. Petersburg police arrested Darren M. Snieszko, 25, on Wednesday afternoon at his home. Investigators think Snieszko may have had relationships with half a dozen girls and are asking for information from the public, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.
"The parents believed that it was some kind of school-sanctioned trip," he said. "He used that discount card to get in for what essentially appears to be a date."
Snieszko is the latest in a string of teachers accused of inappropriate relationships with students. In Pinellas County, a former Seminole High School teacher faced the same charge after authorities said he received a back rub from a female student. Also this month, a 22-year-old volunteer band coach was accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with two 15-year-old girls at Palm Harbor University High School.
In Tampa, former Davidsen Middle School teacher Stephanie Ragusa was re-arrested this week and accused of having sex more than 20 times with another of her students.
And, according to a state database on teacher misconduct, more than 30 Tampa Bay area teachers have faced sexual allegations that resulted in state sanctions.
The Snieszko case began on April 11 when police received nearly simultaneous tips about the teacher. A girl who had been approached by Snieszko complained to the school administration that he was having inappropriate relationships with students. The same day, the 16-year-old and her mother called police to file a criminal complaint about the field trip.
They said Snieszko, of 11682 8th Way N, No. 11, sent the girl romantic messages through MySpace.com, cell phones and instant messaging.
The teacher provided transportation to the zoo and paid the girl's admission. The girl admitted to some "romantic touching" but denied the relationship was sexual, Proffitt said.
It was unclear whether the trip occurred during school hours. Snieszko, who was not cooperative with police, was booked in the Pinellas County Jail on $10,000 bail.
The Pinellas County School District is investigating the allegations and put Snieszko on paid administrative leave on April 14, spokeswoman Andrea Zahn said. His time in jail is considered an absence without pay.
Snieszko was hired in Pinellas County in July 2005 and has worked at Gibbs High School since then, Zahn said.
She said he had no prior district-level misconduct complaints. According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, he has no previous arrests in Florida.
Zahn said Snieszko received a bachelor's degree in biology in May 2004 from Medaille College in Buffalo, N.Y. He also received a master's degree in adolescent education from D'Youville College in Buffalo in August 2005. Zahn said he is not married.
Proffitt said Snieszko and some of the victims may have been involved in the high school ecology club.
Investigators ask anyone with additional information about possible victims to call police at (727) 893-7711.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374.