Teacher suspended, bus driver cleared in two Hernando school investigations

Published June 13, 2013

BROOKSVILLE — A Pine Grove Elementary School first-grade teacher was suspended without pay for 10 days after an investigation into allegations that she yelled at a student, made disparaging remarks about him and hit him in the chest with a backpack in April.

During a computer lab session on April 5, Ellen Lewis was asked to speak with another teacher's student, who wasn't working on a computer, according to a summary by Pine Grove assistant principal Gina Michalicka.

According to the summary, Lewis walked over to the student, snatched away his backpack and screamed at him for several minutes. She then took the backpack to her room. At the end of that day, the student went to Lewis' class to get the bag.

Teacher Cindy Martin, who has an adjoining classroom, said she heard Lewis yelling at the student, who is black, making disparaging racial comments.

Robert Whittel, an attorney representing Lewis, denied she made the remarks.

After she yelled at him, the student reported, Lewis picked up the backpack and threw it at his chest. Whittel denied that, too. He said Lewis raised her voice, but that was the extent of it.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Children and Families were called to investigate the incident. A deputy decided not to arrest Lewis and turned the case over to the State Attorney's Office, according to the school's investigation.

Lewis, 50, was removed from student contact on April 9, then suspended from May 21 until June 3. A Hernando County teacher since 2007, she was also issued a formal letter of reprimand and was told she needed to attend training on strategies to address student behavior.

The Hernando school district recently closed another investigation involving a bus driver who was arrested in Pasco County in May while transporting the Hernando High softball team.

Suspected of smoking marijuana and being high by school officials as the team was loading onto the bus after a game, 59-year-old bus driver Donna Rogers was asked by police to perform a field sobriety test.

She became irate and fought back, eventually being charged with resisting arrest without violence, according to police reports. She was never charged with being under the influence.

In a May 24 letter, superintendent Bryan Blavatt decided to reinstate her to her bus operator position. Blavatt said there was no evidence that Rogers was under the influence and noted that she voluntarily submitted to drug and alcohol tests.

Rogers is required to keep the district updated on the status of her court case. If she is convicted, the district could take further action.