1. Opinion

Editorial: What does it take to fire a Hillsborough teacher?

The four Hillsborough County School Board members who fired superintendent MaryEllen Elia for no reason earlier this year now have saved the job of a teacher who gave them every reason to fire him. With virtually no explanation, they disregarded the facts and Elia's recommendation that he be fired. This is another case of poor judgment by these School Board members, and it calls into question just exactly what it takes to keep or lose a job in this school district.

Administrators had charged Adam Reynolds with hosting an unauthorized, all-girl pizza party at Ben Hill Middle School in April 2014. The purpose was to introduce the girls to his brother, Carter Reynolds, then 17 and an Internet personality followed by millions on the social media site Vine.

The district said Reynolds held the party despite being told not to by his assistant principal, and he later held an off-campus event with Carter Reynolds despite being instructed by his principal to cancel the appearance. That sounds like an open and shut case of insubordination. While Reynolds likened the pizza party to a family lunch, the physical education teacher personally chose the girls who could attend. And though he characterized the off-campus appearance as a private event, Reynolds first tried to use the campus gymnasium, and later involved the PTSA and a high-school band.

Reynolds insisted his assistant principal approved the pizza party, and he defended the off-campus event as an appropriate use of his personal time. But his excuses are hardly compelling. And he showed no appreciation for crossing the line from what would normally be considered appropriate contact between a teacher and his students. Middle school is tough enough without teachers who cannot help their students learn the importance of establishing boundaries. This lack of judgment and maturity certainly falls far below what the school system, parents and taxpayers should expect.

The district charged that the pizza party created chaos on campus, as students began screaming and running through the halls after learning that Carter Reynolds was there. This should have been anticipated by any adult, especially an experienced teacher like Reynolds, now 43, who admitted he hoped to profit off his brother's appearance. Days after the event, a 14-year-old who met Carter Reynolds at the pizza party alleged she had a sexual encounter with him at the teacher's house.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigated the girl's allegation and later closed the case. No charges were filed. Attorneys for the school district and Adam Reynolds agreed that the allegation fell outside the scope of the teacher's conduct, so it was not considered at his termination hearing. Even after the district's case against Adam Reynolds was tailored more narrowly to his benefit, he still stands out as the wrong fit for this job and an employee who cannot be relied upon to follow instructions.

School Board member April Griffin, in voting earlier this month to reject the district's recommendation to fire Reynolds, opined that "People do have lives outside of their jobs." Board Chairwoman Susan Valdes strayed beyond the facts at hand to make a sweeping indictment of the bureaucracy. Two of the other four board members who joined them, Sally Harris and Cindy Stuart, didn't bother to put their rationale on the record.

Now taxpayers owe Reynolds nearly a years' worth of back pay and likely his legal expenses. And the district owes him a new job. For the time being, he is at Van Buren Middle School, though that could change in the coming year. As the district looks around, it should find him a post where judgment and accountability are not in the job description. Maybe something in the School Board office?