BRADENTON -- It took school board members three votes Monday evening to determine the fate of suspended Braden River High School teacher Charles Willis.
Willis has been suspended without pay since October after school officials accused him of using inappropriate language on a Facebook page, to which students had access.
An administrative law judge later determined Willis’ actions were inappropriate but not serious enough to lose his job.
However, that ruling didn’t sit well with School Superintendent Tim McGonegal. He recommended Monday that board members terminate Willis.
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Board members were torn. They took two votes. Because of the absence of board member Julie Aranibar, each vote was tied. In the end, the board unanimously agreed that Willis should lose his tenure. He has taught in Manatee County since 1998. He was placed on annual contract and was suspended for time served plus five additional days. Board Chairman Robert Gause and member Karen Carpenter didn’t believe the tenured educator should be terminated. Gause said Willis corrected his mistake by making his Facebook page private after it was learned that he communicated with students. The court case revealed he had friended 120 students.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what to do. I’m not sure what I have the legal right to do,” Gause said. “We have a teacher that has offended the school site administrator, who has offended the superintendent. He has fully offended Ms. (Barbara) Harvey.”
Board member Barbara Harvey said, “My heart is grieved. I would be appalled if any child befriended any teacher who has done this. I want people to know this is not the normal standard of teaching.”
Harvey and board member Harry Kinnan shared the same belief that Willis’ conduct was unacceptable. Willis’ attorney Melissa Mihok agreed that her client posted the messages and images but said the school district does not have a policy regarding Facebook.
School staff attorney Scott Martin said he was going to offer a presentation showing how inappropriate the words and images were to the board. However, the superintendent, Martin said, prevented the presentation from being offered.
“He told me that under no uncertain terms would those images be broadcast,” Martin said to the board. “If those images are not appropriate for this forum, how in the world can it be appropriate for a teacher (who interacted) with 120 students?”
It is an “appealable order,” Mihok said about the board’s decision.