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Jailed Martinez Middle teacher has had a rocky road

Stephanie M. Ragusa had an arrest record dating to 2004.

Stephanie M. Ragusa had an arrest record dating to 2004.

TAMPA — The teacher omitted her arrest record on her job application. When the school district staff found the truth, they hired her anyway.

Her first semester in the classroom, the principal reported her to the Child Abuse Hotline. Her second year, at her third school, that principal accused her of using profanity and telling students about her personal life.

Stephanie M. Ragusa, the 28-year-old Martinez Middle School math teacher accused of having sex with a 14-year-old boy, has had a rocky road in her two-year teaching career.

Ragusa, who faces felony charges of lewd and lascivious battery, remained in jail Friday without bail. She declined an interview request.

Hillsborough Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the agency is investigating the possibility there may be other victims.

On her teaching application in 2006, Ragusa wrote that she had never been arrested, but a background check said otherwise.

On Aug. 7, 2006, a school investigations manager sent her a letter about the discrepancy.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show she was arrested on a DUI charge in 2005, but records show the charge was later dropped. She was arrested in 2004 in Pasco County, accused of aggravated battery, but that charge, too, was dropped, records show.

She was required to disclose those, regardless of the outcome of the case, said school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.

In September, Ragusa was accused of grabbing a girl who tried to leave the teacher's portable classroom. Her actions concerned principal John Haley. He called the abuse hotline, sparking a criminal investigation.

"Physical interaction with students should only occur when the safety of other students (is) at jeopardy, for the student's safety or your own well being," wrote Linda Kipley, school district manager of professional standards in a letter dated Dec. 15, 2006.

Ragusa was required to complete initial training to deal with interaction with students and to receive training called "Professionalism through Integrity."

Following that incident, Ragusa asked to be transferred to Davidsen Middle School. She later moved to Martinez Middle.

Kathy Flanagan, principal of Martinez, reported concerns about Ragusa. On Dec. 12, 2007, Ragusa met with school officials to discuss accusations that she used profanity and discussed her personal life with students.

"I want them to know I like some of the same things they do," Ragusa told school officials, explaining her behavior, according to the letter.

This was her final warning.

"You are hereby reprimanded for your poor decision-making, and any future incidents will result in the District recommending your employment as a classroom teacher be terminated," wrote Kipley.

On Feb. 12, Ragusa took a leave of absence. District spokeswoman Cobbe said the leave was unrelated to the criminal investigation.

By Friday, parents at the middle school had heard the news.

Donald Sims, whose daughter attends Martinez, said the incident didn't make him question his child's safety.

"Outside of the environment that they (school officials) can control, there's not really much you can do but rely on people's moral compass to ensure they do the right thing," said Sims.

No one answered the door at Ragusa's tidy suburban home.

John Davila, 45, lives in the neighborhood. He said he often saw Ragusa and a man walking a dog in the neighborhood. Records show she bought the home last year with Tony William Irvin, who was drafted in 2004 by the Texas Rangers baseball team. Irvin could not be reached for comment.

Reached at his Westchase townhouse, her father, Riccardo Ragusa, declined to comment.

In her teaching application, Ragusa said she graduated from Clearwater Central Catholic in 1997. She was a cheerleader, according to her online profile at Reunion.com.

She got a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of South Florida in 2002 and had started coursework for a master's degree in mass communications, she wrote.

Times researcher John Martin and writers Casey Cora and Rodney Thrash contributed to this report.

Jailed Martinez Middle teacher has had a rocky road 03/14/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 1:55pm]
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