Hillsborough teacher keeps job despite allegations of unauthorized party

Carter Reynolds, 18, a teen Internet sensation, is the brother of  Adam Reynolds, a former gym teacher at Ben Hill Middle School.
Carter Reynolds, 18, a teen Internet sensation, is the brother of Adam Reynolds, a former gym teacher at Ben Hill Middle School.
Published May 13, 2015

TAMPA — Middle school gym teacher Adam Reynolds, suspended for hosting an unauthorized pizza party for female students with his Internet star half-brother, has been reinstated.

The Hillsborough County School Board voted to put him back on the job in a marathon closed-door appeal hearing that ended about noon Tuesday.

That means the county will have to pay his attorney fees, give him more than six months of back pay and find a position for him, schools spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

"I feel very vindicated,'' said Reynolds, reached by telephone shortly after the hearing. "I'm just glad that the majority of the board took the facts as they were.''

The board voted 4-3 to reinstate him, with April Griffin, Susan Valdes, Sally Harris and Cindy Stuart voting to let him keep his job. Doretha Edgecomb, Carol Kurdell and Melissa Snively voted to fire him.

Reynolds, 43, who taught physical education at Ben Hill Middle School, invited a group of female students to a pizza party at school in April 2014 so they could meet his half-brother, social media sensation Carter Reynolds, who has more than 4 million followers on Vine, a social media app.

The trouble began that day, administrators said, because Carter Reynolds' appearance caused a disruption at the school. Reynolds organized a second meet-and-greet the next day at the Carrollwood Country Club, which he said drew about 1,000 young people.

It got worse days later when a student at the party claimed Carter Reynolds, then 17, had sex with her. She said the encounter happened at the teacher's house. Reynolds said he and his brother never discussed what happened between him and the student. Law enforcement officials investigated but made no arrest.

Reynolds has told the Tampa Bay Times that although his principal accused him of insubordination, he had permission from the assistant principal to hold the pizza party. Rey­nolds, whose judgment had been questioned by administrators on other occasions, had been on unpaid suspension in advance of the termination hearing. The hearing began last week and was closed to the public.

Sally Harris was the only School Board member who could be reached in the hours after the vote, and she did not want to comment based on advice from board attorney Jim Porter. Harris said he suggested she wait until the transcripts are released in two or three days, just in case school superintendent Jeff Eakins decides to challenge the hearing results.

Hegarty said there is no indication that Eakins plans to challenge the decision. He said Porter did not advise board members not to make statements, though he did tell one member — who asked him — that it would be best not to talk about the details of the hearing until the transcripts come out.

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Reynolds' old job at Ben Hill has been filled, Hegarty said, so the district will have to find a spot for him elsewhere. Rey­nolds said he thought that since the school year will end in a matter of weeks, they might have him doing other duties, perhaps working in the call center, until the start of the next school year. He said he hated to leave his old position.

"Here's a principal that makes accusations that in the end prove to be unfounded, and yet I have to leave the school,'' he said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.