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Sex charges against Nature Coast teacher alarm officials

BROOKSVILLE — Allegations that a band teacher at Nature Coast Technical High School had sex with a teenage student from the same school at the girl's home had Hernando School Board members reeling on Friday.

"What are these people thinking?" said board member Sandra Nicholson. "It's a sad day when stuff like this happens."

Nicholson and other board members were bracing themselves for the fallout after the arrest Wednesday of Timothy Robert Brightbill on a pair of charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

Brightbill, 42, remained behind bars Friday at the Hernando County Jail on two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He is being held in lieu of $20,000 bail, with a court date set for Jan. 27 at 9 a.m. Records show he has no previous criminal history. Brightbill is married and has a child.

According to the arrest report, the mother of a 17-year-old Nature Coast student returned home around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to find her daughter lying underneath Brightbill; both were clad only in their underwear.

The mother immediately called the authorities and Brightbill was arrested, according to the Sheriff's Office. Brightbill confessed to both incidents after being read his rights, the report states.

The girl later told deputies that Brightbill first performed sex acts on her in November while she was at his Spring Hill home at 14987 Copeland Way. Brightbill and the teen also allegedly performed sex acts on each other Wednesday, after he went to her home while no one else was there.

The arrest is latest batch of bad news for a school that has had its fair share in the past few months, including a bench-clearing brawl in a football game that led to the cancellation of the team's undefeated season and a six-week suspension of the head coach.

Students have also struggled to overcome the recent deaths of a pair of students, one an honor roll student who was on the school's state-championship bowling team and the other a member of the football team.

"They're having their share of bad events over there," said John Sweeney, vice chairman of the School Board. "What the school has been going through has put it under more of a microscope. And that's what will be happening in this case, too."

By early next week, Brightbill's future with the Hernando school district will also be under review.

The district will start an investigation, remove Brightbill from his Nature Coast classroom and decide whether to suspend Brightbill with or without pay, said teachers union president Joe Vitalo. Once the district has completed its investigation, the superintendent will make a recommendation to the School Board about whether or not to terminate the teacher.

Brightbill "has not been in contact with me but I'm sure he will be," Vitalo said Friday. "The only thing we can do is ensure that he goes through due process. Right or wrong, we're all entitled to that."

Several messages left Friday with Brightbill, Hernando superintendent Wayne Alexander and Nature Coast principal Tizzy Schoelles were not returned.

James Yant, newly elected to the School Board, said Friday that he knew few details about the case but expected to hear a lot more in the coming days.

"I think it sounds like poor judgment on the part of the teacher," Yant said. "We're especially concerned about the safety of all of our students. And it's important as a board that we make that a top priority."

Mike Batchelder, the parent of a recent Nature Coast graduate and someone who was actively involved with the school's cheerleading team and automotive club, said the school would probably be wounded by the allegations.

"Every school has skeletons in its closet," Batchelder said. "But I've never seen a school with parents as supportive as that one. They're tight-knit and they stick together."

A 2007 article in the St. Petersburg Times described Brightbill as the band director of the high school's Marching Sharks band. Their halftime show was music from the Star Wars films.

When asked why he was a band director, Brightbill told the Times: "Because I absolutely love it."

A band director with the same name taught at several Pinellas County schools in the 1990s, according to Times' files. School district offices were closed on Friday and the Times could not confirm his work history.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Sex charges against Nature Coast teacher alarm officials 01/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 6:14pm]
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