Education

Principal faces punishment for backing ex-teacher for job despite police probe, state says

Eddie Hundley, principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy, addresses his board of directors at a meeting in July.
Eddie Hundley, principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy, addresses his board of directors at a meeting in July. gsabella@bradenton.com

The principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy is facing discipline from the Florida Department of Education after he recommended his former employee for a teaching position is Sarasota, despite knowing the employee was under criminal investigation.

In a letter dated Aug. 23, sent by certified mail, state education commissioner Pam Stewart said she found probable cause to justify sanctions against Eddie Hundley’s educator certificate. The investigation was prompted by a misconduct complaint, sent to the state by Sarasota County Public Schools on April 30.

Hundley declined to comment. An appeal form was attached to the state’s letter, and he now has a chance to respond.

“Penalties levied against you may include reprimand, fine, probation, restriction of the scope of practice, suspension not to exceed five years, revocation not to exceed ten years or the permanent revocation of your Educator Certificate,” the letter states.

Hundley’s certificates are for educational leadership and elementary education, and both are currently valid through June 30, 2020, according to the DOE website.

He provided “misleading employment references,” according to the letter, which outlined five violations:

  • In violation of Florida statutes, he was “found guilty of” personal conduct which seriously reduces effectiveness as an employee of the school board.
  • In violation of Florida statutes, he broke the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession, as outlined by the State Board of Education.
  • In violation of Florida Administrative Code, he failed to make reasonable effort to protect students from conditions harmful to learning, or to their mental and physical health.
  • In violation of Florida Administrative Code, he failed to maintain honesty in all professional dealings.

Former Superintendent Diana Greene previously sent Hundley a letter of reprimand for his “blatantly false” statements.

District attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum emailed Hundley in July 2017 to notify him that Quentin Peterson was under investigation by the Palmetto Police Department.

“There was enough probable cause for a judge to issue a warrant to confiscate all the electronics,” Teitelbaum wrote.

And Scott Tyler, chief of Palmetto police, previously said he informed Hundley of images “that may be criminal,” found on Peterson’s laptop. The chief said Hundley was aware that police would be pushing for charges.

Peterson worked as a music teacher at Lincoln Memorial Middle School before it was converted to a charter. As the investigation came to a head, he resigned and agreed never to seek employment with the School District of Manatee County.

But he soon found work in Sarasota County, first as a substitute teacher and then as a full-time math teacher at Booker High School.

Hundley first recommended the former employee on Sept. 22, 2017, rating his work ethic as “superior. He marked “yes” when asked whether he would re-employ Peterson, and the principal marked “no” when asked whether Peterson should not work with children.

He secured a substitute teaching position, and the principal again recommended Peterson for a full-time job on Feb. 23, 2018. He reaffirmed that Peterson could be rehired in Manatee and that he could work with kids.

When asked why Peterson left the school, Hundley said, “relocation.” And, in what might be the most glaring contradiction, Hundley said his former employee was never disciplined.

At the direction of Manatee’s former superintendent, the principal reluctantly sent a letter of reprimand to Peterson for the “physical contact” that took place between him and a student, according a May 4, 2017, letter sent from Greene to Hundley.

“Upon review, I find that Mr. Peterson exercised poor judgment and placed himself in a situation that brought rise to the subject incident,” the letter said. “Mr. Peterson should have exercised better management skills.”

Peterson was accused of touching a student’s thigh while in his dark office, but investigators closed the case after gathering inconsistent statements and little evidence. It was the third time Peterson was investigated for similar accusations.

Hundley called an abuse hotline in 2016 after the teacher was accused of having a sexual relationship with one of his students, but police believe the case was unfounded. And while attending the University of Florida in 2012, Peterson was accused of inappropriately touching a 16-year-old girl while they were alone at Palmetto High School.

Palmetto police found enough evidence to file a capias request, but the prosecutor’s office declined to file the recommended battery charge.

Most recently, Sarasota police arrested Peterson at the Booker High campus, charging him with possession of child pornography.

Hundley defended himself at the charter school’s first board meeting. He said Peterson was never fired or arrested when the job recommendations were made. It seemed like the former employee was once again absolved of the accusations against him.

The board at Lincoln Memorial can vote to evaluate and possibly fire Hundley, according to the school’s charter application, but the board members seem to back their principal.

In a recent statement, the board called media reports “sensational and inaccurate,” and it said the backlash against Hundley, who is black, was racist.

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