Meadowlawn Middle School teacher arrested on molestation charges

Joseph Zavalnak, 41,  has worked in the district since 2009.
Joseph Zavalnak, 41, has worked in the district since 2009.
Published May 25, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — A Meadowlawn Middle School science teacher was arrested Wednesday morning on charges that he molested three students, police said.

Joseph Zavalnak, 41, faces five counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. The victims were ages 13 and 14, according to arrest reports. St. Petersburg police said they began their investigation after one victim's parents called them.

Zavalnak has worked for the Pinellas County School District since 2009.

On May 29, 2013, according to an arrest report, one 13-year-old victim headed to his classroom for lunch detention. As she entered the room, Zavalnak groped the student, "then he verbally reprimanded her for failing to bring her homework to class," the report states.

The student reported the incident to an assistant principal and completed a "student witness form," according to police. The school district would not say Wednesday whether it investigated Zavalnak at the time.

Pinellas court records show he was not previously charged with a sex offense, and police said Wednesday they have no record that they investigated the 2013 incident.

The other incidents occurred this past school year. In November, according to one report, Zavalnak approached a 13-year-old student as she was standing near a bookshelf in his classroom and inappropriately touched her. On another occasion, he groped her again near his desk. Both times, the girl fled from the classroom, the report stated.

The third victim was 14 years old, according to police. Zavalnak also approached her inside his classroom.

While Zavalnak was under investigation, he was moved to a "nonstudent worksite" until his arrest, said Pinellas school spokeswoman Lisa Wolf. His contract will not be renewed, she added.

Zavalnak of Largo does not have a criminal history in Florida, state records show. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on Wednesday morning in lieu of $100,000 bail.

Contact Laura C. Morel at Follow @lauracmorel.