Richard DaSilva's father, friends and a representative of the county's teachers union pleaded the suspended teacher's fate before the School Board Tuesday.
Acknowledging that the teacher had made mistakes relating to his arrest on driving while intoxicated and possession of marijuana and paraphernalia charges, they asked the board to give DaSilva a second chance.
The board voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of Superintendent Carl Austin to suspend the 37-year-old Lecanto Primary School teacher without pay and begin proceedings to fire him. Since Oct. 18, DaSilva has been on paid suspension.
"This is a young man who has made a mistake. He's only been arrested, but he hasn't been convicted," said Vincent Treacy, vice president of the Citrus County Education Association. "We have programs for students (who get in trouble) . . . What about our teachers? What do we do here in Citrus County for them?"
DaSilva's friends described him as an upstanding man who decided later in his life to be a teacher because it is what he really wanted to do. They agreed he had made a mistake, but said that any other professional would be given another chance.
Austin defended his recommendation saying, "The educator's code of ethics holds educators to a higher standard of behavior than doctors, lawyers or Indian chiefs."
School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick said the termination procedure would allow the board to learn all the details about DaSilva and his circumstances before making a final decision on whether to fire him or order some lesser discipline or addiction treatment.
He also noted that the state is conducting its own investigation and could take action against DaSilva's teaching certificate.
In other action, the School Board agreed to seek a new appraisal on the site of the old Lakeview School but also to seek public comment before making a final decision on what to do with the building.
Austin repeated a previous recommendation that the board move forward with selling the site because of the costs involved in upgrading plumbing, roofing and other structural problems with the building to make it usable again.
The issue sparked some debate from board members who aren't sure whether they were ready to give up on the historic building.
Board member Janet Herndon suggested forming a community committee to gather suggestions. She said the facility might have another life as a magnet school, alternative school or some other educational or community function.
But other board members didn't favor adding another committee. Chairwoman Ruthann Derrico and members Willie White and Kevin Cunningham instead favored running a poll through the newspaper to gather suggestions.
Board member David Watson said he thought the board already had heard most of the ideas.
During Tuesday's meeting, the board also decided to move ahead with an agreement with the county and the city of Inverness to try to develop athletic fields at Inverness Middle School. Final approval will be contingent on whether the site can hold both the fields and the expansions the state has approved for the overcrowded school itself.
Board members Ruthann Derrico and Watson expressed some concern with the plan, which would require the board to lease the ball field lands to the county for 15 years and would require the board to declare the community recreation an "educational purpose."
Derrico said she thought there were still too many unanswered questions.
But the board agreed in a 3-2 vote to move forward and see what an architect not yet hired by the board will say about fitting both functions on the property.
The board members also agreed Tuesday to allow QPI Productions representatives to make a formal proposal at their next meeting to begin live televising of School Board meetings and taping of other school district events.