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Political flier calls out School District over employee arrest and how it handled parental notification

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A flier criticizing the Hernando County School District for the way it handled parent notification after the 2021 firing and arrest of an employee has caused a clash between the District and Blaise Ingoglia, the state representative for District 35. The employee was arrested and charged with the sexual assault of a minor. Ingoglia is currently seeking election to the State Senate District 10 seat. The mailer depicted School Board members Susan Duval, Kay Hatch, and Jimmy Lodato who stand for re-election on Aug. 23. The mailer was produced and distributed by the Government Gone Wild PAC whose chairman of record is Ingoglia.

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The mailer, which arrived in the mailboxes of Hernando County voters between Aug. 10 and 12 states, “School administration refused to tell parents that their children may have been around an alleged pedophile.”

The allegation refers to the March 2, 2021 arrest of Dwaine Anton Francis by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) on a warrant from Miami-Dade County for sexual battery against a victim under the age of 12 and lewd and lascivious behavior.

According to School District Spokesperson, Karen Jordan, Francis had cleared a background check before he was hired as a Physical Education (PE) paraprofessional on Feb. 1.

The Miami-Dade charges did not show up at the time of the hiring because they were not made until March 2, said HCSO Deputy Public Information Officer (PIO) Michael Terry.

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Francis’ employment with the school was immediately terminated when HCSO deputies arrived at Suncoast Elementary to arrest him, Jordan said.

According to Jordan, the same day of the firing, the school’s principal notified parents about the incident via a telephone message that reached 780 phone numbers and did not include the name of the employee or details of the accusations, but described the incident as “serious.”

In an Aug. 15 Facebook posting with the words “Setting the Record Straight,” the Hernando County Schools referenced the mailer saying that it contained “incorrect information,” and provided a timeline of the firing and Francis’ subsequent arrest. The post also included that Francis had never been alone with students prior to his firing.

On Aug. 17, Ingoglia released the principal’s March 2, 2022 telephone message to parents through a Facebook post.

The message states, “Good afternoon. This is Scott Piesik, Principal of Suncoast Elementary School with an important message. Today the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office made an arrest of a member of our staff. the incident related to the arrest is serious but it does not involve any of our students and did not take place on campus. There are few details I can share at this time but I can report that this individual has been with our school for only a short time and as of this afternoon has been terminated and will not return. I assure you that we take the safety and well-being of our students seriously and we will take all appropriate steps to maintain a safe campus. Thank you for your attention if you have concerns you may contact the school at 352-797-7085, but please understand School staff will not be able to provide additional information regarding this matter. Thank you and have a good evening.”

“It is unfortunate that the Hernando School District is now posting material pertaining to an event that happened in March 2021,” Ingoglia said in response to the Facebook exchange. “I would like to know what information in the mailer was wrong.”

Jordan was not available to respond to inquiries about what specifically was incorrect in the mailer.

Lodato was also unavailable for comment on the mailer or the School District’s response.

According to Michael Terry, HCSO Public Information Officer, after his arrest, Francis was booked into the Hernando County Detention Center on the warrant from Miami-Dade. Because he was already in custody, the HCSO filed charges of its own identical to those connected to the Miami-Dade warrant.

“That’s because the incidents took place in both Miami-Dade and Hernando County, but did not involve a student here,” he said.

As a result, Francis has been at the Hernando County Detention Center since 2021.

“He never left,” Terry said.

Francis pled not guilty to the charges in April of 2021.

On May 25, 2022, a Fifth Judicial Circuit Court jury found Francis guilty of “sexual battery of a child over 12 years of age but less than 18 by a person with familial or custodial authority.” His sentencing is slated for Sept. 22.

“After that, Miami-Dade may arrest and charge him on their warrant,” Terry said.

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