Days after the arrest of Connerton Elementary principal John Abernathy, accused of stealing $900 from a student with special needs, "Team John" began lobbying the school district to keep the veteran administrator on the job.
Superintendent Kurt Browning placed Abernathy on paid leave while the legal proceedings take place. Abernathy could not be reached by the Tampa Bay Times, but district officials said he has professed innocence to the grand theft charge.
In e-mails to Browning, Abernathy's backers claim he was wrongly accused and demand justice for him.
"John Abernathy may have trusted and made the mistake of not counting the money, but that is not worth ruining a man's reputation and career," parent Tami Storey wrote. "Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?"
Connerton teacher Christina Salerno wrote that Abernathy is a "kind, giving man who would not take from anyone. … However, in this case his caring personality has caused him this trouble."
Parent Rebecca Hopkins urged Browning to tell law enforcement officers how much support Abernathy has, and to allow Abernathy to return if the state decides not to prosecute.
"The news has spread, and the gossip is venomous," wrote teacher Marci Williams. "We are not the judge, nor are we the jury. … Please help me show John we stand with him. He deserves a little TLC."
Browning responded to each correspondent, thanking them for their input. While the issue remains in the legal system, he said, "there is nothing that the district or I can do."
Related coverage: Pasco deputies: Elementary principal stole $900 from 9-year-old