5 Manatee school district employees face firing in Frazier probe, but some will fight for jobs

Five school district staff members face termination in Frazier investigation

eearl@bradenton.comSeptember 27, 2013 

MANATEE -- At least two Manatee County school district administrators will fight a recommendation for their terminations, which are based on allegations that they did not report suspicions of child abuse.

Superintendent of schools Rick Mills sent notifications to five school district employees that they could be fired based on findings in the investigation of Manatee High School assistant football coach Rod Frazier.

Bob Gagnon, former principal of Manatee High School and assistant superintendent; former Manatee High assistant principals Gregg Faller and Matthew Kane; and Debra Horne, former investigator for the office of professional standards and assistant principal of Prine Elementary, have been on paid leave since charges were leveled against them.

Scott Martin, staff attorney and former assistant superintendent of operations who has not been charged in the case, also received a recommendation to be fired.

Horne, Faller, Gagnon and Kane are charged with failure to report suspected child abuse -- a felony charge. Kane and Gagnon are also charged with providing false reports to law enforcement.

Attorneys for Horne and Kane said they will fight their termination.

"If there were legitimate charges for child abuse, then the State Attorney would have charged the parents with failure to report because they were the first to have knowledge about it, and rightfully weren't," said John Bowen, the former school board attorney who retired June 30. "The parents later gave a letter to the principal's secretary. She didn't call the hotline, and she wasn't charged, and rightfully so. It is beyond comprehension how Mrs. Horne could be the third person to come into the same knowledge and

be charged."

Bowen said that by the same token, Martin should not be charged.

"You will have to ask the superintendent why he is deciding to fire Mr. Martin," Bowen said.

Calls to Mills were not returned Thursday. Mills did release a statement to the media Thursday morning about his decision to fire the administrators.

"The District remains vigilant in ensuring the safety of all students and employees and has already taken steps to prevent these issues from arising again in the future," Mills said in the press release. "Prior to the conclusion of the investigation, the District mandated that more than 5,000 employees attend a course in Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect."

Faller and Kane were put on leave Aug. 15 through a district investigation led by Troy Pumphrey, the new investigator in the office of professional standards.

Horne was suspended Aug. 7; Gagnon and Martin were suspended Aug. 5.

"The investigation was launched to address concerns that certain district administrators may not have fulfilled their professional responsibilities and obligations to students in the District," Mills said in Thursday's press release.

"Moreover, as leaders, district administrators have a paramount responsibility to meet the expectations of providing a safe and secure environment for students and staff. Unfortunately, the findings of the Frazier investigation reflect that these administrators failed to fulfill these obligations; causing me to lose all confidence in their abilities to serve as administrators in this District. I further found that just cause exists to terminate their employment."

Bowen said he and Martin both recommended that Horne not call the hotline about suspicions of child abuse because "there was no basis to call the hotline."

"I don't know all the details of the other employees, but in Mrs. Horne's case, I am not aware that she has done anything wrong, much less something that would justify termination," Bowen said.

At the start of the year, Horne led the initial investigation into complaints about Frazier. She transferred out of that position in the middle of the investigation.

While working in the office of professional standards, Horne was consulting with Martin as the staff attorney and with Bowen as the school board attorney. The office of professional standards now reports directly to the superintendent, but at the time reported to the legal department.

Bowen said there was nothing to report concerning child abuse when Horne was in that position.

"The allegations for misconduct were being investigated, but there were no allegations that amounted to child abuse," Bowen said. "This was supported by the State Attorney, who only charged Frazier with battery and not child abuse."

Frazier, who worked at Manatee High School as a parent liaison, was charged with seven counts of misdemeanor battery and three counts of school interference, also misdemeanors, for what prosecutors say was improper contact with students and staff.

Derek Byrd, Horne's attorney, said Thursday that he suggests that Horne fight the termination.

"We take the position that she has done nothing wrong," Byrd said. "She conducted an investigation, and she reported to her superiors. I don't know what else she was supposed to do; it is not her job to draw conclusions."

Byrd said that Frazier only faced one allegation before Horne transferred from the office of professional standards to her assistant principal job.

Brett McIntosh, Kane's attorney, said Kane also intends to contest termination.

"I disagree with the recommendation to terminate his employment," McIntosh said.

McIntosh would not comment any further on the case or his recommendations to Kane.

The five district employees will have 14 days to request a hearing regarding their recommended termination, and the school board can approve or deny the request for termination. The board will vote on that decision at the next board meeting on Oct. 14.

School board members Bob Gause and Dave "Watchdog" Miner said it is not appropriate for them to comment at this time.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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