Administrative hearing begins for suspended Manatee assistant school superintendent Robert Gagnon

jajones1@bradenton.comApril 21, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Robert Gagnon, the suspended assistant superintendent of Manatee County School District and former principal of Manatee High School, was the first witness to take the stand Monday in his own administrative hearing.

Gagnon, fighting to get his job back, testified he told Scott Martin, former Manatee School District attorney, to pull no punches in investigating allegations of improper behavior by Roderick Frazier.

Separately, Gagnon faces criminal charges for not properly reporting allegations of child abuse by Frazier, a former Manatee High School assistant football coach and parent liaison. Frazier is accused of inappropriate behavior with students and faculty.

"Pull on every string and bury him under the school," Gagnon said he told Martin should the district find any evidence of wrongdoing.

Richard Reinhart, Gagnon's attorney, asked him if he ever attempted to influence Martin or Debra Horne, former district internal investigator, in their investigation of Frazier.

"Never," Gagnon responded.

Terry Harmon, representing the Manatee County School District before Administrative Law Judge Lynne Quimby-Pennock, said Gagnon failed parents in keeping their children safe and failed to perform his duty regarding Frazier.

Allegations made against Frazier include late-night meetings with students in a parking lot, inappropriately touching them, texting students and discussing a female student's menstrual cycle with her.

Reinhart asserted Gagnon properly investigated allegations against Frazier and called the effort to prosecute Gagnon a "witch hunt."

Gagnon said he acted properly when concerns -- not rumors -- were brought to him.

Gagnon said when he saw Frazier and another parent liaison, Steve Gulash, parked with students in their golf carts in the school courtyard, he directed staff members stop the practice.

A year or more later, when he heard Frazier talked with a student about her menstrual cycle, Gagnon agreed the concerned teachers who mentioned it had a valid point.

But he said he didn't think either instance rose to the level of opening a district investigation.

Among those testifying Monday: a former student who said a teacher saw her sitting on Frazier's knee eating a piece of cake. She also said she had received texts from Frazier, rode in his golf cart almost daily on campus, and that he had called her in English teacher Patricia Aragon's class to talk about her menstrual cycle.

The student said she asked her parents to pull her out of Manatee High School because of Frazier's "touching and stuff."

In January 2013, the student wrote a letter to Manatee High School that detailed concerns about Frazier. Her mother signed and delivered the letter.

Reinhart questioned the now-former student about the cake incident.

"You went over to get a piece of cake, he grabbed you around the waist and pulled you onto his knee," Reinhart said,

"Yes," the student responded.

The student said she never took her concerns to Gagnon.

"You never talked to Mr. Gagnon about any of this stuff," Reinhart said.

The student agreed.

The student's mother followed her to the witness stand and said she pulled her daughter out of Manatee High School because she belonged in class rather than in Frazier's office.

"Is it fair to characterize this letter as your concerns about Mr. Frazier?" Harmon asked the mother.

"Yes, and more," she said.

Aragon also testified she called Pat Barber, president of the teacher's union, after Frazier called her class to speak to the student about her menstrual cycle. The student became angry at Frazier and hung up on him, Aragon said.

Following Barber's advice, Aragon said she went to Gagnon with concerns about the inappropriateness of Frazier talking to a female student about her menstrual cycle. Gagnon promised to look into her complaint, Aragon said.

Reinhart questioned the credibility of Aragon's complaint, noting she failed to submit a written report and said her memory was suspect.

"My memory is good," Aragon responded.

All witnesses Monday were called by attorney Terry Harmon on behalf of the school district. Among those called in the afternoon was Gulash, an assistant coach and parent liaison.

Gulash said he reported to Horne after a parent and a student saw Frazier place a water bottle between a female student's legs.

Reinhart asked Gulash if he ever reported the incident to Gagnon.

"No, sir. I didn't bring any of the Frazier issues to Mr. Gagnon," Gulash said.

Also testifying was teacher Jacqueline Peebles, who said she walked in on Frazier while he had a student on his lap eating cake.

"When I saw this, I was shocked and said: 'What the hell is going on?'" Peebles said.

Frazier's reaction was to lean back in his chair and say: "So, Miss Peebles, what can I help you with?" Peebles said.

Initially, Peebles said she went to Gagnon's office to report the incident, but not finding Gagnon or any assistant principals, decided to try again the next day. Ultimately, Peebles said she reported what she had seen to assistant principal Matt Kane.

Peebles said she never told Gagnon about the cake incident, nor about an incident where another student said Frazier had rubbed up against her in a tiki bar.

Peebles said Gagnon had an open-door policy and the best interests of students at heart.

Monday's testimony closed with Manatee Principal Don Sauer saying Steve Rinder, coordinator of student assistance, had come to him with disturbing reports several staff and faculty had shared with him about Frazier's behavior.

Sauer asked Rinder to put the concerns in writing, and Sauer sent a copy to Horne.

No one came to Sauer with concerns about Frazier prior to Rinder, Reinhart said.

"That's correct," Sauer answered.

Harmon said he has about six more witnesses to call Tuesday, and then Reinhart will begin calling witnesses on Gagnon's behalf.

Previously, there were indications 51 witnesses will be called for Gagnon, an amount that may have been reduced.

Quimby-Pennock said the hearing will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday. She has penciled in three days for the hearing, which can go longer if necessary. Quimby-Pennock is not expected to immediately issue a ruling upon conclusion of the hearing.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service