Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Public safety

Bloomingdale High teacher hid cameras in girls’ changing room, deputies say

BRANDON — A teacher and girls track coach left Bloomingdale High School in handcuffs on Tuesday after deputies said he admitted to secretly recording students in his fashion design class as they undressed.

Mark William Ackett, 49, of Plant City, had spent 27 years working for the Hillsborough County School District when he was booked into the county jail on a charge of committing video voyeurism on school property as a school employee.

The father of two sons and family consumer science and fashion design teacher was released at about noon Wednesday after posting $7,500 bail, records show. He did not return a call from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment.

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Deputies were called to the school Tuesday morning after a 17-year-old student in Ackett’s fashion design class told school administrators she was trying on clothing in the designated changing room when she discovered a cell phone filming students as they undressed, records said.

The student immediately dressed and reported the incident to administrators, who started an investigation and alerted the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Detectives soon began a criminal investigation.

Detectives learned the student’s teacher had secretly placed two cell phone cameras in the classroom’s changing area, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Both of the phones were left on and one was actively recording while the girl was getting changed, the report says.

Later that evening, Ackett admitted to detectives he intentionally placed the two cameras in the changing area, according to an arrest report.

"The defendant admitted ... to the camera phones belonging to him and having placed the camera phones in the changing room for the purpose of secretly recording juvenile students disrobing," the report says.

Students, parents and staff at Bloomingdale High learned of Ackett’s arrest in a recorded phone call sent out Wednesday morning by principal Sue Burkett, said school district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

On social media, news quickly spread among parents and alumni of both Bloomingdale High and Plant City High, where Ackett began his career in Hillsborough County as an English teacher and wrestling coach.

"I am absolutely sick," Bloomingdale High parent Jane Anne Owen wrote on Facebook. "All of those track meets he was at with (the) team. I am heartbroken for so many girls and for his wife. Praying for all those who are affected and hurt by this."

"My kids said plenty of tears at school today and very few teachers talking about it, just letting them know anyone can be excused and go to guidance if they need to," wrote Belinda Frolics, another parent. "The students are livid."

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Ackett served as the assistant principal at Bloomingdale from 2006 to 2009 and was the girls track coach, Arja said. He later worked in the district’s central office as supervisor of attendance before returning to Bloomingdale in 2017 to teach family consumer science and fashion design.

Ackett also taught a "Senior Survival" class where students learned how to sew a pair of shorts, parents said. He resigned from the district Wednesday, Arja said, ending a career that began in 1991. In that time span, Ackett only received two disciplinary letters in his personnel file.

They came in January 1996, when the parents of a Plant City High student threatened to sue the district for $100,000 after Ackett, the school’s wrestling coach, broke the boy’s leg while teaching him "low impact falls," the letter said.

"While doing so, the minor plaintiff fell in an awkward position and complained of severe pain in his leg," the letter said. "The coach applied ice to the leg and secured it with an ace bandage and suggested the plaintiff ‘walk it off.’?"

The school district later covered the boy’s hospital and surgical fees, a total of about $17,000, after his parents reported that he sustained a "comminuted (shattered) fracture to the tibia in his leg."

In his application to join the school district as a full-time employee, Ackett disclosed that he pleaded no contest to a DUI when he was 18 years old, but wanted to use his life experiences to teach students.

"I am interested in teaching as well as coaching because I realize the need for good role models for today’s child," Ackett wrote in his application. "I am alarmed at the high dropout rate, and I think that I can do something to help the situation."

The Sheriff’s Office is trying to determine if there are more victims. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call (813) 247-8200.

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes. Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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