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Tarpon Springs High principal to transfer after questions over his handling of death threat

James Joyer will become an assistant principal at a 
middle school.
James Joyer will become an assistant principal at a middle school.
Published Oct. 7, 2015

James Joyer, the Tarpon Springs High principal whose response to a recent death threat at the school has been questioned, is leaving for a lower post.

He will transfer to an assistant principal job at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg pending School Board approval Tuesday, according to a statement by the Pinellas County School District.

The district said that Joyer requested the transfer on Monday and that he shared his decision with the Tarpon Springs faculty and staff at a meeting after classes ended Tuesday. He sent a recorded phone message to families after the meeting. Joyer had led the school since last year.

"It has been a true privilege to be part of Tarpon Springs High School," he said in the message. "After serious contemplation, I feel this is the best way for the school to move forward and focus on being a stellar academic community."

Tarpon Springs High assistant principal Leza Fatolitis will serve as acting principal until a permanent replacement is chosen.

Joyer is under investigation by school officials after authorities say he halted efforts to trace an irate man who called the school Sept. 4 threatening to come on campus and kill him. A resource officer said in his report that Joyer's secretary called the officer "and advised me to hang up the phone and do not pursue this matter any further."

At the time, it was unclear whether the caller was serious about his threat or whether he was armed. There were no calls for police backup or to secure the school through a lockdown or a lockout.

"The investigation into whether or not discipline would be appropriate for this incident is still ongoing," district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said. "Mr. Joyer's request (for a transfer) is unrelated from our perspective."

Neither the district's statement nor Joyer's recorded message mentioned the Sept. 4 incident. Joyer could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

A week after the incident, one of the school's resource officers, Taurean Mathis of the Tarpon Springs Police Department, reached Edward S. Ecker, 56, by phone, using the number that was called to make the threat. Police said Ecker admitted to the officer that he made the threatening call and said it had to do with "personal issues" between his wife and Joyer. When reached by the Tampa Bay Times, Ecker denied making the call to the school but said the police report was incorrect and he is not married, but Joyer hurt a friend of his.

Mathis ran a criminal background check on Ecker that came up clean. But the check was in error, as the Times found that Ecker served 24 months' probation in North Carolina for three misdemeanors, including an assault on a woman in 2007. Ecker, a St. Petersburg businessman, has not been charged in the threat.

District officials, Tarpon Springs police and Joyer met on Sept. 29 to review the school's response to the threat, but they emerged afterward with no new information.

"Student and staff safety is a top priority for Pinellas County schools and Tarpon Springs Police Department," the school district said in a statement that day. "Today's meeting reaffirmed the commitment from both organizations to continuously improve safety plans and processes. We look forward to working in partnership to maintain a safe learning environment at Tarpon Springs High School."

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In a statement Tuesday, superintendent Mike Grego said he supports Joyer's decision "to do what he feels is best for Tarpon Springs High School."

The statement continued: "I thank him for his service as a principal and look forward to his continued leadership in our schools."

Colleen Wright can be reached at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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