Manatee teacher accused of soliciting a child for sex

Austin Michael Pearce
Austin Michael Pearce Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

A Manatee County teacher was fired after police arrested him on five charges related to the solicitation of a child in Orange County.

Austin Pearce, 28, was a newly-hired agriculture teacher at Palmetto High School. He is accused of “inappropriate contact with an Orange County student,” according to an email from Mitchell Teitelbaum, attorney for the School District of Manatee County.

He said the district immediately barred Pearce from campus after learning of his arrest, which took place on Tuesday afternoon.

“The charges for which he was arrested do not involve any students in Manatee County schools,” Teitelbaum wrote.

Pearce has since been fired. He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department provided no further information.

Officers with the St. Petersburg Police Department arrested the former teacher on an Orange County warrant, but it’s unclear when the alleged incident took place, or specifically what led to the charges.

Pearce is facing five charges, according to the warrant.

Authorities accused Pearce of soliciting a child to engage in sexual battery, possession of material including sexual conduct by a child and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.

He is also charged with committing an unnatural and lascivious act, and soliciting a child for unlawful sexual conduct using computer services or devices.

Pearce was released from the Pinellas County Jail early Wednesday after he posted bonds totaling $3,000.

The district hired Pearce in August, but not before checking his criminal history and his standing with the Florida Department of Education, according to Teitelbaum.

He said “nothing was found in that background check that disqualified him from employment,” and that no investigations against Pearce were found in the state’s Educator Certification System.

Orange County Public Schools acknowledged questions by the Bradenton Herald, but a response was not received by Wednesday evening.