Robert Gagnon urges Manatee County School Board to move swiftly

mdelaney@bradenton.comJuly 1, 2014 

BRADENTON -- After a recommended order that Robert Gagnon be reinstated to the Manatee County School District, Gagnon and his lawyer, Richard Reinhart, are urging the school board to act swiftly to make a decision and finally close the case.

Gagnon, a suspended assistant superintendent for the district, has been fighting to be reinstated since the school board approved a suspension without pay in October in connection with his handling of allegations about former Manatee High School assistant football coach Rod Frazier.

"It's been torturous," Gagnon said outside the Manatee County courthouse Tuesday afternoon.

The recommended order, filed Monday by administrative law judge Lynne Quimby-Pennock, states the school district failed to show sufficient evidence that Gagnon violated any specific statute, rule or school board policy.

"There was no direct, non-hearsay evidence that Respondent knowingly failed to perform his duties as principal or assistant superintendent in the appropriate manner," the recommended order reads. The order reads Gagnon, also a former principal at Manatee High School, should be reinstated and awarded full back pay.

The school board will vote on whether to accept the recommendation. By law, the board has 90 days to act, but Reinhart and Gagnon are hopeful the district can act sooner.

Another judge last month acquitted Gagnon of criminal charges related to his handling of the Frazier matter.

"We're here today to encourage the school board to move forward on the case as quickly as they can," Reinhart said.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is July 22. The agenda for that meeting has not been created. Board chair Julie Aranibar said Tuesday she was not sure if a discussion and potential decision on the recommended order would be on the agenda at the next meeting as they have not yet begun to put the agenda together.

On Monday, Superintendent Rick Mills confirmed the district had received the judge's recommended order and was in the process of reviewing it to determine what further course of action should be taken on behalf of the school district. The district's statement in regards to the recommended order did not change on Tuesday, but districts officials may have more to say on the recommended order later this week.

Reinhart has also filed paperwork with the district to have Aranibar and school board member Karen Carpenter recuse themselves from voting on the recommended order because of statements they've made to the public about Gagnon and his case.

"You have no business being part of the decision-making process," Reinhart said about Aranibar and Carpenter.

Gagnon's contract was not renewed by the district this year, and as of Tuesday, he was unemployed, Reinhart said. Flanked by his wife, Melissa, and two of his three children, Gagnon said he wants to continue his lifelong passion of working with children. Reinhart said Gagnon had an opportunity for a job with the Department of Education that he could not pursue because of the pending investigation.

On Tuesday, Gagnon did not close the door to rejoining the Manatee County district, saying it would be dependent upon what position he is offered by the district. Gagnon most recently served as an assistant superintendent for the district, a position which no longer exists.

"I know I can work with the people of the district, the leadership might be a little difficult at this point, but I'm a professional," Gagnon said.

The Gagnon family plans to stay in Manatee County, and Gagnon said he plans to continue to work with children in some capacity. The Gagnons' oldest son, Robert, will be a junior at Braden River High School and is in Washington, D.C., this week competing in the 2014 National TSA conference with a number of other Manatee County students. Their daughter, Alyssa, will be a freshman at Braden River and their youngest son, Michael, will enter seventh grade at Haile Middle School.

Frank Brunner, who is challenging Carpenter for the District 4 seat, said he attended the press conference Tuesday so he could hear and see what Gagnon was going to say firsthand.

"Both judges independently concluded the same thing," he said. Brunner declined to say how he would vote on Gagnon's reinstatement if he were a member of the school board, but said he hopes "cooler heads will prevail."

Last month, Gagnon was acquitted of criminal charges that he failed to report to the Florida Department of Children and Families allegations of child abuse by Frazier.

Suspended assistant principal Matthew Kane was also acquitted of identical charges.

Another suspended assistant principal, Gregg Faller, was convicted of a misdemenor charge of not reporting child abuse, and sentenced to one day of probation.

Kane and Faller are also trying to get their jobs back with the district. The recommended orders in those cases have not been issued yet.

Frazier, who resigned from the district, pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor counts of battery and two misdemeanor counts of interfering with school attendance. He was sentenced to three years of probation, including six months of house arrest.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.

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