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Schools get okay to keep track of their own

Published Oct. 12, 2005

The Hillsborough County School Board gave its blessing Tuesday to a new process for checking up on wayward employees by reviewing monthly arrest records.

School officials developed the new process of computer checks after being surprised to learn late Tuesday of a couple of teachers being arrested without school officials being notified.

Even while that new procedure is getting started, the old system turned up a couple of teachers recently arrested and charged with felonies. On Tuesday, the two teachers were suspended without pay until the charges are resolved.

One of the suspended teachers is Barry L. Bunn, a science teacher at Plant City High School. On Sept. 11, Bunn was charged with aggravated assault and criminal mischief in connection with an incident in June, according to court records. He is accused of threatening to run into a man with a car and damaging the man's $200 toolbox. The incident occurred at a tire store in Brandon.

Also suspended was Mable Christine Patterson, who school officials say was arrested Oct. 5, charged with burglary, grand theft, uttering a forged instrument and forgery.

A former teacher also was suspended without pay Tuesday. That former teacher _ Doug Ralyea, who recently ran the for School Board _ was fired in 1991 after he was accused of threatening a student. But Ralyea went to court, and a Hillsborough circuit judge recently ruled that Ralyea was entitled to a hearing.

School officials said they did not grant Ralyea a hearing because he had his teacher's certificate suspended and was no longer authorized to teach. In recommending that Ralyea be suspended Tuesday, school officials made it clear that they plan to recommend that he be fired again.

Ralyea, who ran for the District 7 seat on the School Board both in 1988 and again in 1992, has contested his firing, claiming the School Board should know more about the incident with a student.

The suspensions Tuesday of the recently arrested teachers did not result from the new system of computer checks. School officials have just gotten started with the system, which checks for employees' names in a month's worth of arrest records. The system, which is expected to cost $80 a month, was developed after school officials were embarrassed to learn of previous arrests hidden by a veteran teacher and a substitute teacher.

In a case in July, a high school drama teacher was arrested and accused of inviting students to his duplex near the school for marijuana and pornographic films. He also was accused of masturbating in front of the students. After the teacher's highly publicized arrest, school officials learned that in 1986 the teacher had been charged with masturbating in an adult movie theater.

In the other case, in August, a substitute teacher was charged with fondling three girls during the school year. After the arrest, school officials learned the teacher had been charged with spouse battery after he was hired _ an arrest that could have gotten him removed from the classroom.

School officials plan to check each month to see if any employees have been arrested. In most cases, they would learn of the arrest from local law enforcement. But if the employee did not identify his or her employer, the school system might not be notified.

If a school employee is charged with a felony, the employee would be suspended and kept out of the classroom until the charges are resolved. If convicted, the employee probably would be fired. However, if the employee is cleared or the charge is dropped, the employee could be reinstated.

Many misdemeanor charges, such as traffic infractions or a bounced check, would not result in a suspension. But misdemeanors also include some drug and sex offenses, which probably would result in suspension and possible termination.