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Pinellas teacher arrested, fired for bringing loaded gun to school, police say

Ex-Pinellas County teacher Betty Jo Soto, 49, was arrested on charges that she brought a gun and knives to Starkey Elementary School on Monday and was fired by the Pinellas County School District, authorities say. She now faces two misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon, according to the Pinellas County Schools Police. [Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office]
Published May 20

SEMINOLE — A Pinellas County school teacher was arrested and fired on Monday after she brought a loaded gun and knives to her classroom, authorities said.

Betty Jo Soto, 49, was a fourth grade teacher at Starkey Elementary School at 9300 86th Ave. She now faces two misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon, according to the Pinellas County Schools Police.

Pinellas school district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf-Chason said Soto was exhibiting "suspicious behavior" during the school day on Monday. Principal Audrey Chaffin noticed the teacher carrying around a backpack everywhere she went, the spokeswoman said, and thought it was unusual.

"The principal notified law enforcement," Wolf-Chason said, "and in the course of their investigation, discovered what was in her backpack."

The weapons were discovered at about 11:30 a.m. in Soto's fourth grade classroom, officers say. A Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol loaded with seven bullets was found "hidden" in a backpack left in her classroom, according to the arrest report. The gun was "exposed" to students in her classroom, the report said.

Soto has a permit allowing her to carry a concealed weapon in Florida, the arrest report said, but that does not allow her to carry such weapons on a school campus.

Officers said they also found Soto was carrying two knives: A six-inch fighting knife in her pocket and a two-inch finger push knife in her backpack strap.

She was arrested and booked into the Pinellas County jail at about 1:45 p.m. She was freed later Monday after posting $500 bail.

The school district recently decided not to renew Soto's teaching contract for the next school year, according to a spokeswoman. But she could not say when Soto was told.

Contact Kavitha Surana at ksurana@tampabay.com. Follow at @Ksurana6. Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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