Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

Several peculiar complaints had been lodged against Pinellas teacher before child porn charges

LARGO — A Pinellas County teacher accused of downloading child pornography on his home computer has a peculiar history of complaints against him, including allegations that he exchanged inappropriate emails with a young girl, according to records from the Pinellas County School District.

John Kaneski, 42, resigned after his arrest Friday on 10 counts of child pornography possession. He taught English as a Second Language at Cross Bayou Elementary School in Pinellas Park and had been a Pinellas County teacher since 1994.

Pinellas sheriff's officials said they have reopened an investigation from 2005 when a student accused Kaneski of touching her, a case that was dropped when the girl recanted.

Detectives also are investigating allegations that Kaneski had inappropriate contact with at least one other child.

Between 1999 and 2006, Kaneski — who taught at four elementary schools in the district — was the subject of at least six complaints to school officials.

Among the most serious were accusations in 2001 from the parents of one of his students, who claimed that Kaneski, then teaching at Curlew Creek Elementary in Palm Harbor, had traded a series of inappropriate emails with their 10-year-old daughter.

Kaneski began emailing the girl at the beginning of the school year. The messages started out as benign exchanges about school, but became more personal.

"Hey, how come we don't talk more in school?" Kaneski wrote. "You are great to talk to on line, but in school you are quiet and shy. Don't get me wrong, we teachers love quiet and shy!!!! I was just wondering that's all.

"Hopefully tomorrow, we can have a nice long (45 second) conversation! HA HA"

The girl's parents told Kaneski to stop emailing their daughter. In a subsequent letter to principal John Burwell, the girl's mother noted that Kaneski was offended by their request.

"We then explained we did not want (our daughter) to take his emails out of context for fear she may have a crush on him," the girl's mother wrote. "His reply was 'half the 5th grade girls do, so that is not unusual.' "

In the months that followed, the girl's behavior at home changed dramatically, the mother wrote. She became "fearful and mistrusting" as a result of what the mother claimed were acts of "emotional abuse" inflicted by Kaneski.

Her daughter, the mother wrote, later informed her parents that Kaneski had pulled her aside the day before his conference with her parents and asked her what kind of conference she wanted him to have with them.

Conference A: no concerns, she's doing very well

Conference B: he was concerned about her low FCAT reading score.

"Mr. Kaneski told her in order to get Conference A, she would have to email him every day and talk to him in class at least 45 seconds every day," the mother wrote.

In a written response, Kaneski denied the mother's accusations and blamed the young girl for instigating the situation. "I wanted them to clearly understand that (the girl) was initiating the emails," he wrote.

The girl's parents later phoned a school administrator to request that their daughter be transferred to another school.

Records show Kaneski was issued a warning, but no other action appears to have been taken.

Later that school year, Kaneski drew a complaint when he embarrassed a different girl in front of her class. When the girl misplaced a paper, Kaneski asked if it was inside her messy desk. He tipped the desk over while directing the class to shout "Timber!" as papers tumbled out.

Other complaints centered on accusations that Kaneski insulted some students, telling them they were "unintelligent" or that they would not amount to anything in life. It's unclear from school records whether any of those claims were substantiated.

One incident that was substantiated occurred in late 2005. A young girl completing a reading lesson was having trouble pronouncing the word "it." Kaneski had the girl walk over to a wall where a number of words were displayed. He had her pick up a piece of paper with the word "it" written on it and told her to "touch it," "smell it" and "kiss it."

The girl told school officials the incident embarrassed her.

Kaneski was issued a letter of caution and no further action appears to have been taken.

The most serious complaint also came in 2005. An 8-year-old student said Kaneski had touched her underneath her clothes while they were alone in a classroom. The girl told her parents, who notified authorities and an investigation began. It was dropped after the girl told detectives she had made up the allegation. That case was reopened after Kaneski's arrest Friday.

Kaneski, a married father of a 9-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl, remained jailed Tuesday on $200,000 bail.

Times staff writer Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]

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