Fivay High School took to Facebook Oct. 6 to celebrate its teacher of the year, special education instructor Brian Borruso, complete with congratulations and balloons.
One day earlier, the Pasco County School Board discussed setting a date to review a reprimand of Borruso over accusations he submitted falsified records relating to the special education needs of 10 Fivay students during the past year.
Borruso, who declined to comment, has been fighting the disciplinary action by superintendent Kurt Browning since the summer. He has asked the board to hear his appeal of the reprimand, and lawyers have been working to schedule a date.
The scenario raised a sticky situation for district officials, who like to view the annual teacher of the year awards as special recognition for top educators. School-level winners compete to represent the district for the state’s honor, currently held by Pinellas County teacher Sarah Painter.
Pasco has had one state finalist in all the years of the competition.
School district spokesperson Steve Hegarty aimed to separate the recognition from the discipline.
“The school district has no role in the teacher of the year selection process,” Hegarty said, noting it is conducted by teachers at the school level. “Clearly, the recent investigation and disciplinary action is unrelated and has had no bearing on Mr. Borruso’s selection as teacher of the year at Fivay High School.”
Fivay principal Jason Joens said he didn’t want to talk about his school’s selection. Joens has spent three years attempting to improve Fivay’s reputation, which has been marred by student violence and other problems.
Don Peace, president of the district’s employee union, which oversees teacher of the year voting, also steered clear of the discussion. He said the United School Employees of Pasco is not involved in the discipline hearings or in Fivay’s teacher of the year choice.
Kerry O’Connor, Borruso’s lawyer, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Browning initially proposed a five-day unpaid suspension for the teacher, who has worked for the district since 2002. He later withdrew that recommendation, writing that a suspension would harm students and the school more than provide a deterrent effect.
Still, Browning wrote, “the conclusions contained in the original recommendation for suspension without pay are accurate as stated.”
He detailed them in a five-page letter dated June 28. A team of school- and district-based administrators investigated, Browning stated, and found several instances where Borruso, 47, allegedly falsified state and federal documentation of services provided to 10 students.
Among the findings:
- The mother of one student complained her student was moved into a special program without holding any meetings to discuss the switch. When asked to complete paperwork on the student, Borruso submitted a record of a meeting that officials said never occurred. The mother also raised concerns because her student had never spoken to Borruso all year.
- The parent of another student said her child had been moved into a different special education program for five months without her being consulted. The parent also said she was never invited to a meeting that documents submitted by Borruso said she attended.
- A Fivay gifted resource teacher complained that Borruso filed papers showing one of her student’s individualized education plan meetings took place without her twice. Documentation did not include any gifted goals, the teacher stated, and listed “made-up gifted services.” The paperwork indicated that parents participated in the meetings, but a parent told the district they never heard from Borruso.
The investigative team had similar details for seven other students.
According to district correspondence, Borruso claimed that he had not been given the opportunity to defend himself. Browning stated in writing that the teacher had that chance during an April 27 hearing, and was provided two more months to present additional material.
During that appeal, Borruso reportedly made the argument that one of the problems was the parents involved didn’t understand the way special education hearings are conducted. Browning didn’t buy that explanation.
“I am unwilling to chalk up the issues at hand to the otherwise unsupported assertion that our parents lack the knowledge or understanding needed to comprehend and respond to an IEP meeting invitation,” the superintendent wrote.
The district plans to submit its findings to the state Office of Professional Practices, which could decide to investigate independently.
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