LAND O'LAKES — The Tropicana speech competition has landed Oakstead Elementary School teacher Anik Pepin-Rossow in hot water.
Pepin-Rossow has been suspended for three days without pay because she allowed one of her students to write and present a speech that criticized a former teacher at the school by name. That former teacher's son still attended Oakstead, heard the comments during a schoolwide assembly and "had an emotional breakdown," according to superintendent Heather Fiorentino's formal letter of reprimand to Pepin-Rossow.
The former teacher, whose name was not disclosed, complained to the school.
"This mother was very concerned with your actions and stated that her son was very upset that your student publicly gave a speech about her being the worst teacher ever," Fiorentino wrote. "She also reported that other students made fun of her son because of your student's speech and that he was humiliated and had an emotional breakdown as a result."
Pepin-Rossow could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
According to Fiorentino's letter, Pepin-Rossow initially dismissed the concerns, telling principal Tammy Kimpland it was a "10-year-old's speech for 10-year-olds." She also stated that, knowing the speech would be made publicly at an assembly, she did not anticipate a negative reaction.
The speech, titled "My Bad Teacher," said the instructor "left us with this mean sub" who "told everyone to shut up," according to the student's written notes. "She even forgot to take us to the FCAT Writes video, but she brought it up on YouTube," the student's notes said.
During a district-level review of the complaint, Pepin-Rossow told an employee relations supervisor that she regretted the situation because her intent was to boost her student's confidence in speaking.
"When asked if you understand why this mother and her son were upset, you said that you did and that upon reflection you should not have allowed this student to give this speech," Fiorentino wrote.
Fiorentino accused Pepin-Rossow of unprofessional misconduct for failure to protect students' well-being.
The School Board on Tuesday also suspended two other teachers without pay.
Janet Deshotels, a teacher at Gulf Middle School, will have five unpaid days for mishandling FCAT testing materials, causing the invalidation of 28 students' exams. Deshotels is reported to have handed the wrong testing booklets to the wrong students, and then having students switch booklets after the testing had begun.
Nancy Martin, a teacher at Woodland Elementary, will have three days without pay for "inappropriate interaction with staff members." Martin is reported as having had an animated argument with colleagues in front of her students, at one point telling one of the co-workers, "screw you." This isn't the first time she's lost her cool at work, according to district records. During a heated exchange in 2009, she called an assistant principal an "a--h---" and a "b----." Her discipline is to include an anger management assessment.
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While the board unanimously approved the actions against all three teachers, School Board member Steve Luikart said it would be nice to get the recommendations and backup information on the cases sooner.
The district staff historically has not provided this information, reasoning that the board might have to hear an appeal if the employee challenges Fiorentino's action. They have said they do not want to bias that hearing.