1. Education

Pasco suspends, transfers teacher accused of making Trump-related racial remark

The Pasco County School Board voted Dec. 6, 2016 to suspend and transfer John Sousa, a Wesley Chapel High teacher and golf coach accused of making a racial remark to students that referenced President-elect Donald Trump. [Times files]
The Pasco County School Board voted Dec. 6, 2016 to suspend and transfer John Sousa, a Wesley Chapel High teacher and golf coach accused of making a racial remark to students that referenced President-elect Donald Trump. [Times files]
Published Dec. 6, 2016

LAND O'LAKES — A white Pasco County teacher accused of making racially charged statements to black students has been suspended without pay for three days and transferred to a different school across the county.

Many in the community called for Wesley Chapel High School special education teacher John Sousa to be fired for telling students he would call newly elected president Donald Trump to have them deported for their behavior.

Some students said he directed his comments at African-American teens, and said they would be sent "back to Africa." The incident, a day after the Nov. 8 election, tied in to similar acts of intolerance in schools around the country in the aftermath of a nasty presidential campaign.

Superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board on Tuesday that he found the scenario "incredibly inappropriate," but not a firing offense.

"You've heard me say I'm a supporter of second chances," Browning said. That behavior is not condoned by this district. But there is a place for him."

Sousa, who has been on administrative leave since the incident, will transfer to Mitchell High School in Trinity as a teacher of students with autism. His past performance evaluations were positive.

Also factoring into the equation were discrepancies in the details of what happened in the school hallway.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said Sousa acknowledged making the deportation comment to students but denied saying they would be sent to Africa. Meanwhile, "the students were not unanimous" in describing the teacher's action, Cobbe added.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Sousa stressed that he did not say exactly what he was accused of saying.

"I said, 'You kids get where you're supposed to be, or the new president could get you in trouble,'" Sousa recalled, adding that he never pointed out any particular teens and wouldn't be able to identify them now.

"Maybe I should have been minding my own business," the 30-year educator said. "But there were kids where they weren't supposed to be."

He noted that the district investigation turned up inconsistencies among students' accounts, but suggested that pressure came to bear in disciplining him. Sousa lamented the political atmosphere that led to the accusations.

"I didn't vote for Donald Trump. ... I am not a racist," he said. "This is what's wrong with America. People make accusations about people without really knowing them."

He welcomed the opportunity to move on to Mitchell High.

"I love doing the job that I do," Sousa said. "It's all in God's hands."

In public, most of the details about what occurred came through social media. Parent Donnie Jones Jr., a local photographer, posted information from his daughter on Facebook, and the story went viral.

Jones said at the time he spoke to Sousa, who apologized and said he did not intend to be racist. Jones said he found the apology disingenuous. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

School Board members, who unanimously approved the discipline without any conversation, said the suspension and transfer should suffice.

"It's inappropriate language," said board member Steve Luikart, a retired assistant principal. "Do you slap their hands, or cut their knees off?"

"He's being punished enough," added board member Alison Crumbley. "He's on our radar screen."

Browning said Sousa would be subject to progressive discipline, meaning a repeat would not be treated the same way.


  1. AMIkids in Pinellas Park has been shut down after two staffers were arrested in connection with the injury and neglect of a 12-year-old student.
  2. First Lady Casey DeSantis talks with students during the Hope for Healing a mental and substance abuse initiative held Roland Park K-8 School in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, May 16, 2019. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said state officials worked closely with DeSantis to craft the new rule. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
  3. Pinellas County School Board member Carol Cook, left, celebrates her reelection to her fifth term in 2016. If ultimately approved, a term limits proposal would force Florida's school board members out after two consecutive terms.
  4. Chicken and vegetable dumplings with soy sauce were offered to students to test during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste-testing, Wednesday, February 19, 2020 at Pinellas Technical College. Twenty-eight new food items were tested and rated.  Some will be added to next year's school menus.
  5. Jarvis Delon West was arrested for child neglect after failing to report an employee at AMI Kids who slammed a boy to the ground, according to police
  6. Patrick Suiters, 10, left, and Gabriel Stanford, 9, both fourth-graders at San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin, fill out a survey after tasting falafel tots and nuggets during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste test at Pinellas Technical College. About 120 students tasted and rated 28 new food items that could be added to school breakfast and lunch menus next year.
  7. The Pinellas County school system is offering driver education camps to hundreds of students like this one over the summer. The program will be held over two sessions at nine high school campuses across the county.
  8. Incoming Superintendent Addison Davis (center) and School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) sign Davis' contract with the Hillsborough County School District after it was unanimously approved by the school board on February 18, 2020.
  9. The attendance zones for Northwest, Gulf Highlands and Fox Hollow elementary schools would shift under a proposed rezoning that also includes the closing of Hudson Elementary.
  10. Incoming Hillsborough School Superintendent Addison Davis (center), School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) and the other board members pose as Davis signs his contract with the district on Tuesday night. The board unanimously approved the contract beforehand.
  11. Jarvis Delon West was arrested on child neglect charges after he didn't report an employee at AMI Kids who slammed a boy to the ground, according to police.
  12. Associate professor of biology Caitlin Gille leads the Pasco-Hernando State College faculty union, which challenged the school's public comment rules.  (Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Gille)