Tampa charter school principal facing charges for failing to report abuse

The principal claimed she didn’t know she was required to tell authorities.
A Tampa charter school principal was arrested for failing to report two instances of abuse.
A Tampa charter school principal was arrested for failing to report two instances of abuse.
Published May 27, 2023|Updated May 28, 2023

The principal of Channelside Academy of Math and Science, a public charter school in Hillsborough County, is facing charges for two instances of failing to report abuse.

Cristina Fuentes, 49, was arrested after turning herself in Saturday following an investigation by Tampa Police that began in April.

Police said Fuentes was informed of an allegation of sexual abuse on April 27, when she was told a 7-year-old student was inappropriately touched by another student for about 30 seconds before other students intervened. The student’s teacher informed Fuentes and though the assistant principal began the reporting procedure, a news release from police said that Fuentes failed to report to Child Protective Services or law enforcement.

The police statement also points to a second instance in December where the same 7-year-old student was grabbed by a cafeteria employee and thrown to the ground, leaving him with a lip injury and shoulder bruising. Police say the incident was captured on school security footage. The victim’s teacher told Fuentes, who reviewed the footage and fired the employee the next day, according to the police statement. But Fuentes did not report the incident to law enforcement or Child Protective Services, police said.

Fuentes told law enforcement that she did not know that she was required to report child or sexual abuse, according to the statement from police, but other witnesses provided sworn statements saying school officials were trained on mandated reporting. Police said Fuentes also had followed up with staff on reporting requirements.

Florida law states that school personnel are among those mandated by law to report instances of child abuse, sexual battery or vulnerable adult abuse to the Department of Children and Families or county sheriff’s office. Failure to report child abuse is considered a third-degree felony and failure to report a sexual battery is considered a first-degree misdemeanor.

Lynn Norman-Teck, executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance, said Fuentes has been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the police investigation. She said Fuentes had served the school since 2017 with “professionalism and dedication to student success.”

“Our highest priority is, and remains to be, for the overall health, safety, and well-being of students attending Channelside Academy of Math and Science,” Norman-Teck said. “The Channelside Academy school community is disheartened by the news and understands the seriousness of the charges.”