PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Manatee teacher facing dismissal

nalund@bradenton.comOctober 22, 2010 

BRADENTON — A Braden River High School teacher is facing termination for reportedly posting inappropriate student-viewed images, photos and comments on social networking sites and for taking a group of female students on an unauthorized out-of-state trip.

Charles E. Willis, 43, of Bradenton, wrote text-speak on his Facebook and Formspring web pages throughout this year, using acronyms that include profanity, according to a Manatee County School District nine-page administrative complaint.

Willis, who has worked in the district since 1998, is currently on paid administrative leave from his position as a teacher for violating multiple district rules and the state code of ethics for teachers, according to the complaint written by district staff Attorney Scott Martin.

District leaders say he provided students with access to inappropriate, lewd images and also told them when he had consumed too much alcohol.

In one online posting, a female student thanked Willis for allowing her to skip his class.

His “suggestive” response: “You’re welcome, but now you owe me ... LOL.”

In early September, he told district officials he had created a separate Facebook page for students and a private page to which his students did not have access. But when district officials checked later in the month, of the 353 “friends” he had, 112 were students from the high school.

On Thursday, he denied the allegations against him and said he plans to fight for his job.

“I have an awesome relationship with my students,” he said in a telephone interview.

Earlier in the year, Willis approached Braden River Principal Jim Pauley and requested approval for a school-sponsored trip, but Pauley denied his request. Despite that, Willis organized a trip.

“He used school facilities to hold a meeting in regard to the trip, and thereby it suggested to students and parents that it was school-sponsored,” Martin said.

It was not.

He reportedly took eight female students to New York during spring break.

Willis is also being investigated by the State Attorney’s Office following a Sept. 22 arrest on a child abuse charge. He reportedly head-butted his 12-year-old son at their home. The boy was not seriously injured.

Willis said the incident is a misunderstanding and called it an accident.

“I was informed today that the state attorney is not going to press charges,” he said. That statement could not be verified by prosecutors Thursday.

Regardless, schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal said he wants him fired for inappropriate behavior and for gross insubordination.

Willis has requested his case be heard by an administrative judge. Willis said he plans to fight the district’s allegations with the backing of the Manatee Education Association and its attorney, Melissa Mihok.

The school board will determine during its regular meeting Monday whether to fire him or suspend him without pay and grant him an administrative hearing. The board, coincidently, is also slated to vote on new rules governing teacher use of social networking sites to interact with students.

Under the new policy, teachers must get written permission from parents if they want to communicate with students on those websites, or even by personal e-mail.

The policy also prohibits teachers from posting pictures or comments that cast the district, teachers or students in a negative light.

Board members will also decide Monday whether to fire two other district workers:

Christopher Lewers, a maintenance worker, was arrested on a careless driving charge after he flipped a $60,000 district vehicle and destroyed it, according to a district administrative complaint. He has also received verbal warnings for excessive absences and lateness, according to an administrative complaint. Joyce Taylor, a Lee Middle School cafeteria worker, also faces termination for not reporting a possible child abuse case to an abuse hotline as district policy requires, according to another administrative complaint.

Taylor has requested an administrative hearing, school officials said, but Lewers as of Thursday had not.

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