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Lecanto teacher accused of misconduct

State education officials have filed a five-count complaint against a Lecanto High School teacher charging that she drank alcohol around students and attended parties where underage students were drinking.

In addition, foreign language teacher Renee Sheldon had granted special favors to a student several years ago including passing him when he had not completed his assignments, excusing him from his other classes and providing him with alcohol after his graduation even though he was a minor, according to the complaint.

The charges of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct were filed against Sheldon after months of investigation by Professional Practices Services, the investigative arm of the state's Department of Education.

Student complaints prompted an investigation last summer, but many of those complaints were unfounded. However, the investigation turned up alleged misconduct that dated back as far as 1987 and Citrus County school officials turned the case over to the state Department of Education.

The counts of the complaint allege that Sheldon was "guilty of gross immorality or an act involving moral turpitude," that she violated the law or rules of the state Board of Education, that she "failed to make reasonable efforts to protect the students from conditions harmful to learning or health or safety," that she "exploited a relationship with a student for personal gain or advantage" and that she "intentionally exposed a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement."

The administrative complaint filed against Sheldon earlier this month could lead to the state taking action against her teaching certificate including reprimand, suspension or revocation.

Sheldon said Wednesday she will fight the charges, and she has requested an administrative hearing.

That proceeding will be a kind of trial in which witnesses will be called on both sides with an administrative hearing officer acting as judge.

Sheldon said she has not done anything wrong and does not believe she has been given a chance to fully tell her side of the story during the nearly one-year period that the complaints have been investigated.

" I'm not standing for this because there's a lot more to it," she said. "I'm not going to put up with all of these lies that have been going on all of these years."

Sheldon, 38, has taught in Citrus for 10 years and had taught previously for a brief time in Pinellas County.

Her personnel file at the School Board office indicates that she has had no previous reprimands, and the yearly evaluations available for public inspection show that she has received the highest ratings in all categories.

The complaint details actions Sheldon allegedly did during the 1987-88 school year, including granting tardy slips for a male student who was late to school and late to class, writing notes that excused the same student from other classes, giving the student passing grades when he did not do the assigned work and providing him with alcoholic beverages after graduation, even though he was a minor.

From that school year through the 1992-93 school year, the complaint alleges that Sheldon drank alcohol in the presence of minor students and attended parties thrown by students where underage drinking took place.

Neal Weiss, executive director of administrative services, said turning the case over to the Department of Education "is not something we like to do, but we have to do it" because it is required by law.

The school system is awaiting further action by the Department of Education and has requested additional information.

"It's in the hands of the Department of Education at this point, and we're working with them," he said.