Concerned parents lined up to blast the Hernando County School Board during the public comments portion of the District’s April 11th Board meeting Tuesday night. The parents expressed outrage at the District’s handling of a March 24th incident at Fox Chapel Middle School, which some believe placed student safety in jeopardy. Weeks before parents were notified, word and rumors of the incident spread through social media, as well as at least one self-published online news site. The news came on the heels of a mass school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. Driving parents’ frustration was the fact that there was no notification from district officials at the time of the incident, as well as concern about how the district handled the incident itself.
On March 24th, a teacher at the Fox Chapel Middle School reportedly made remarks to an assistant principal indicating she was contemplating suicide. The staff member also made a remark that was interpreted by some at the time as a threat to harm students. The remarks came while the teacher had a class full of students.
The events of the day were documented in a Sheriff’s Office report obtained by Hernando Sun. According to the report, the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Fox Chapel was contacted by Assistant Principal Kerry Thornton and Guidance Counselor Kimberly Walby at about 3:50 PM on March 24th. The pair were concerned about statements made by a teacher relating to “self-harm and then possibly making statements about shooting students,” according to the report.
Thornton told the SRO that she had stopped by the classroom of a teacher at the school about fifty minutes earlier and asked the teacher how she was doing. The teacher replied, “Not good, I’m having bad thoughts.” The teacher was teaching a class at the time of the encounter. Thornton then sent the teacher to see guidance counselor Walby.
When the teacher arrived at Walby’s office, the teacher told Walby that she was upset because of a social media post in which people were talking negatively about the teacher’s gender identification. The report notes the teacher “was born as a male but is currently in the transformation stage of becoming a woman.” The report further states the teacher “is taking hormone medications and is planning on having surgery over the summer.”
The teacher expressed that she “sometimes has suicidal thoughts.” The report goes on to state, “When asked about other topics that were triggers for her, the teacher explained that some students in her fourth-period class were not performing to their abilities and how she seems to care more about their success than the students do.” Walby told the SRO that the teacher also made a comment “that she wanted to shoot some students due to them not performing to their ability.” The teacher then immediately told Walby that she would never harm a student. After some further discussion, Walby believed that the teacher was not “in crisis” at the time. (The term “in crisis” is commonly used to denote a state of mind tending to lead to self-harm or harm to others.)
The report also states: “It should be noted that Kimberly (Walby) began to reiterate that she has short-term memory issues, and she is starting to second guess the conversation she had with (the teacher) so far as the details and the order of events with the conversation.”
According to the report, the SRO then interviewed the teacher, who confirmed her conversation with Walby, adding that she had been struggling with depression. When asked about threats to students, the teacher told the SRO that some students in her class were not even trying to pass, and she does not want to see them fail. The teacher denied ever making a comment about wanting to shoot any of them. The teacher also told the SRO that she had firearms at her home but was planning to let a family member take them for safekeeping.
Following her interview with the SRO, the teacher met with Hernando County School District Mental Health Coordinator Sandra Hurst. After an evaluation, Hurst did not believe that the teacher met the criteria for the Baker Act. The Baker Act is a Florida law that allows a peace officer to make an emergency detention for a mental health evaluation under very specific circumstances.
The teacher was allowed to return home with a fellow teacher whom she identified as her wife. Later that same day, another Hernando County Deputy responded to the home and took the couple’s three handguns and ammunition for safekeeping pursuant to a court order. The Sheriff’s office reported that the teacher cooperated in the surrender of the weapons.
The teacher was allowed to return to work several days later by the district.
Many of the parents present at Tuesday’s School Board meeting expressed frustration and anger over a complete lack of information provided by the school. Parents reported finally receiving a robocall from the school’s principal on Monday, April 10th, the day before the board meeting. An online transcript of that call read:
Good evening parents. This is Principal Rufa. Fox Chapel School administration is aware of allegations made on social media regarding a comment made by one of our teachers, leading to several parents reaching out to us with concerns. While the teacher in question did make a comment to colleagues that was concerning, school and district followed protocol in conducting a full investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, staff and law enforcement determined the comment was not an imminent threat to the campus but was instead an expression of frustration at student behavior shared privately to colleagues. As part of any investigation involving staff, the teacher was removed from student contact while the matter was fully reviewed. The teacher has been cleared to return to the classroom. Thank you for your attention. Goodbye.
Note: This is an evolving story and will be updated as new information is obtained.