Manatee High teacher-soccer coach investigated by district

jlembo@bradenton.comApril 18, 2014 

BRADENTON -- A Manatee High social studies teacher who also is head boys soccer coach is under investigation by the School District of Manatee County after a complaint from a fellow employee.

Colby West, 29, is being investigated as a result of a complaint presented to the Office of Professional Standards, confirmed Stephen Valley, school district director of communications and family/community engagement.

Because the investigation is active, the district cannot comment, Valley said.

West acknowledged he and a co-worker have had problems and he sent the colleague an ill-advised text message that likely led to the complaint.

"It wasn't a smart text," he said. "But those things happen all the time at school."

West, a teacher at Manatee High for five years, said there is something more sinister at play and pointed a finger at district administrators, particularly Superintendent Rick Mills.

"I think there's a vendetta against Manatee High," he said.

West contends the investigation stems from his knowledge of a "family tree" created and given to Manatee County School Board member Julie Aranibar, who gave it to Mills with the aim to "dismantle" everyone associated with Robert Gagnon, former Manatee High principal and former assistant superintendent now facing charges in the case against Roderick Frazier.

A former Manatee assistant football coach, Frazier is accused of inappropriately touching students and others at the school. Frazier is charged with seven counts of battery and three misdemeanor counts of interfering with school attendance. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

"I'm being picked out and investigated, and it keeps coming," West said.

Valley said the superintendent had no knowledge of the West investigation until Monday, which was when the OPS started it. He also said Mills knew nothing of a family tree associated with Gagnon until he read about it in an April 5 story in the Bradenton Herald.

In that story, Frazier's defense attorney, Edwin Mulock, filed a motion to depose Aranibar because another witness claimed to have created the family tree and gave it to Aranibar, who supposedly passed it on to Mills.

It has been a tumultuous stretch for Manatee High. Aside from the Frazier case, the school was fined $13,330 in February by the Florida High School Athletic Association for indiscretions involving the school's baseball team. The district conducted its own investigation and Mills recommended Gagnon and Joe Kinnan, the school's head football coach and former athletic director, each be suspended 10 days.

West said he teaches advanced placement courses at Manatee and his pass rate in American history has been the highest at the school. But he said what has happened over the past few months has had an adverse effect on his ability to do his job.

"I love my job teaching and coaching there," West said, "but it's made it a little tough. ... This year, it has been constant harassment for me blowing the whistle on this conspiracy."

John Lembo, Herald sports reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7057.

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