1. The Education Gradebook

Teacher repeatedly in hot water for behavior around students — but no charges

Carter Reynolds, 18, is a teen sensation through his content on YouTube and Vine, attracting crowds of young girls at his meet-and-greets. His 43-year-old half brother, teacher Adam Reynolds, appears with him in some of the short videos, emphasizing that he is not Carter’s father. These photos are from a website called notvine.
Carter Reynolds, 18, is a teen sensation through his content on YouTube and Vine, attracting crowds of young girls at his meet-and-greets. His 43-year-old half brother, teacher Adam Reynolds, appears with him in some of the short videos, emphasizing that he is not Carter’s father. These photos are from a website called notvine.
Published Jan. 22, 2015

TAMPA — Administrators at two middle schools were troubled by the way Adam Reynolds, a physical education teacher then in his 30s, socialized with girls at school. Officials were squeamish when he made sexually suggestive TV commercials. They took action when he became online friends with female students. It was all on the up-and-up, Reynolds said.

Then in April, a 14-year-old girl told her parents she had sex with Reynolds' 17-year-old half brother Carter at Reynolds' home. The teens met at an all-girl pizza party Reynolds hosted at school. The teacher, now 43, had the girls write down their Twitter and Facebook information so his little brother, an Internet celebrity, could follow them.

According to a district report, Carter Reynolds began the courtship with a question: "Which one are you?"

Months later, Adam Reynolds is suspended and awaiting a hearing to determine if he can still be a Hillsborough County teacher. Law enforcement officials have decided not to prosecute. Reynolds said he doesn't know what happened between the girl and his brother.

His case raises larger questions about how teachers should conduct themselves, especially in the digital age, and where school districts should draw the line on adult behavior that pushes boundaries.

New teachers get ethics training and commonsense advice before they ever set foot in a classroom. Don't get in a car with a student. Don't close your office door if you're alone with a student. Save Facebook friendships until after the students graduate.

"The vast majority of teachers are well aware of their ethical responsibilities and the expectation that they will be held to a very high standard of behavior," district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. "The best teachers develop strong, supportive relationships with their students, but they absolutely know where to draw the line."

When they stumble they are counseled, warned and sometimes disciplined, Hegarty said. "Usually that's all it takes."

Records show that Reynolds, however, has struggled off and on during his 15-year career with questions about his judgment.

An assistant principal at Buchanan Middle School, where he worked from 2002 to 2005, thought he socialized a bit too much with female students.

Reynolds moved to Carrollwood's Ben Hill Middle School. There, too, a supervisor did not like seeing him in the cafeteria, sitting with girls. Reynolds said he sat with male students, too. "That's just how I am," he said.

The school district took action in 2006 after Reynolds "friended" students on MySpace. He says MySpace was new, there were no guidelines for teachers, and he had both male and female friends.

An investigation showed there was no online communication between Reynolds and the kids. But some were made uncomfortable by the experience. Reynolds was reprimanded for poor decision-making.

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Three months later, administrators noticed he appeared in an off-color tire commercial. One version of the ad shows him in a hot tub with three women. In the other, he is driving an all-terrain vehicle. "Bigger is better," he tells the women in both videos.

A note in his file advises his bosses to "be cautious" but warn him about appearances. No action was taken.

There was an investigation after a student accused Reynolds of calling her a "lazy b----." Insisting he has not uttered a swear word since eighth grade, he said she was retaliating after he reported her for skipping class.

Officials could not substantiate the allegation, though two of the witnesses said Reynolds favored girls who wore skimpy shorts.

Another report says a parent got suspicious after seeing Reynolds behind the school with a student. He doesn't remember that incident, and nothing came of it.

• • •

Reynolds, who is single, lives just east of Carrollwood and rents out extra bedrooms in his house.

For a while he had a transportation business. Internet pictures show him posing with groups of young women, apparently on their way to parties. He said the business served all kinds of people, including church groups.

He's "a hundred percent, a thousand percent" Christian, he said. As a teacher, "I've never done anything unethical or immoral in my eyes."

He said he takes precautions to avoid suspicion, as do all teachers, especially men. "If somebody wants to hug you, you give them the sideways hug," he said. Or a high five, and even that's not a guarantee. "A lot of people will interpret being nice as having a hidden agenda."

He's had top marks on his most recent evaluations, he said, and 99 percent of his students would consider him a role model. Yet he's been questioned, he said, about something as innocent as telling other teachers about a recent date. He insists that what he does outside work is his business.

"What if I want to I go to a beach and wear a Speedo?" he said. "Is it wrong? They do it in France."

• • •

Reynolds' half brother is from a small town in North Carolina. Obscure among people older than 20, Carter Reynolds is part of a wave of teens made famous by YouTube and Vine, a venue for short, clever videos. Adam Reynolds said he had no idea how popular Carter was among young girls.

Then, when he was telling a student to put away her phone, he saw she was looking at a Vine personality. He asked what she would say if she learned that her teacher knew Carter Reynolds. She was impressed.

Carter was planning a trip to Tampa for spring break. Another girl whose father owned a local bar thought they might host a meet-and-greet, Reynolds said. That didn't work out. But he got busy planning other events.

He tried to persuade his bosses to let him use Ben Hill Middle on April 18, a nonstudent day. They said no. It was Good Friday and much of the staff would be off. The district report says Reynolds pleaded with principal Jacquelyn Scaglione. "Oh come on," he reportedly said, twice. Reynolds denies this. He says Scaglione, whom he described as "vindictive," wants to make him look bad.

He asked if he could have a small gathering that Thursday. Again, the stories differ. Reynolds says that an assistant principal said he could invite 10 to 15 students to a pizza lunch. Not so, the assistant principal said when Scaglione questioned him later.

Reynolds also arranged a Friday night meet-and-greet at the Carrollwood Country Club. He got the PTSA involved, offering a donation from the proceeds. When Scaglione asked if he would make a profit, the teacher said "yeah" or "heck yeah," depending on who is telling the story. She did not want the PTSA involved and wanted him to cancel the party. Reynolds didn't think she could make that call.

Late in the week "we started getting phone calls from all over the Southeast," said Andy Green, general manager of the club. "People were driving down from Georgia, from Miami, from all over. We were very close to canceling, but that ship had sailed."

At school on Thursday, the pizza party set off pandemonium as word spread that Carter Reynolds was there. Hundreds of girls were "screaming at the top of their lungs," the district's report said. Some were lying on the ground crying. "Get him out of here," Scaglione told Adam Reynolds, shouting to be heard.

The Friday night event attracted triple the 300 guests the club anticipated, though Green said they were well-behaved.

But the worst wasn't over.

The following week at school, the resource deputy asked to speak with Scaglione in his office. "We have a problem," he said. A student had described a sexual encounter with Carter Reynolds at the teacher's home.

The matter was turned over to sheriff's officials, who investigated for seven months. According to a report released last week, Carter Reynolds, through his lawyer, declined to answer questions. The State Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute. The case is closed.

• • •

Adam Reynolds said he never discussed the issue with his brother. He was "horrified at the allegation" and didn't really want to know what happened, he said.

He is on unpaid suspension pending a termination hearing in the spring. In his view, the district wants to blame him for a scandal that was not his fault.

He is accused of insubordination because of the pizza party. "He exercised extremely poor judgment and ignored his principal's directive. As a result we are seeking to terminate him," Hegarty said.

Reynolds will argue that he had permission to have the party.

Looking back, he said he regrets nothing: not sitting with students at lunch, not going to kids' sporting events after hours, not his actions in April. "Do you think I would risk my entire career to have a pizza party with 12 kids?"

Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.


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