Education

Charter school principal set to lose his license. His job could follow, state says

Principal maintains he didn’t know about allegations leading to a teacher’s arrest

Principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy, Eddie Hundley maintained on Tuesday that he didn’t know about the evidence that ultimately led to that teacher’s arrest.
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Principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy, Eddie Hundley maintained on Tuesday that he didn’t know about the evidence that ultimately led to that teacher’s arrest.

Principal Eddie Hundley will likely have his state credentials revoked for five years after he endorsed a teacher who was under criminal investigation. The principal is now at risk of losing his job as the leader of Lincoln Memorial Academy.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Education Practices Commission made its final decision after hearing from Hundley in Tallahasee. Administrative Law Judge Lynne A. Quimby-Pennock, who spent hours listening to Hundley in early January, had recommended the license revocation and other sanctions.

While the state DOE recommended Hundley lose his license for two years, Judge Quimby-Pennock added three years to the punishment, noting that Hundley “made a fraudulent statement and failed to disclose material facts.” She recommended that Hundley lose his certificate for five years, followed by five years of probation.

The judge also endorsed a fine of $2,400 and a mandatory ethics course. Wednesday’s committee accepted all of the judge’s sanctions, but they won’t go into effect until a final order is drafted within four weeks, according to DOE spokeswoman Cheryl Etters.

Hundley will have 30 days to appeal after the state releases its final order, according to an email from Gretchen Brantley, executive director of the Education Practices Commission.

The school district contacted Lincoln Memorial and the chair of its governing board, Christine Dawson, via email and certified mail on Thursday. In a letter dated May 9, district attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum said Hundley “cannot be employed in a position that has any direct contact with students,” if he fails to appeal the sanctions.

When reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon, Hundley said he was in a meeting and would return the call. He followed up with a voicemail later that evening.

“I’m sure this is in regards to the EPC decision today, but this is just part of a process, unfortunately,” he said. “I will give you a call tomorrow as soon as I’m able.”

Hundley followed up with a text message the next day, noting that he would be available for an interview in the upcoming week

In the meantime, it seems his job is on the line.

“While a charter school principal may not need to hold a Florida educator certificate, a revocation or suspension of a certificate would prohibit employment in any position which has direct contact with students in a public school or district,” DOE spokeswoman Audrey Walden previously said.

The school district’s attorney echoed a similar message to Lincoln Memorial’s governing board. His letter said EPC action against an educator’s certificate would deny their right to “teach or otherwise be employed by a district school board or public school in any capacity requiring direct contact with students.”

Hundley first recommended Quentin Peterson, a former music teacher at Lincoln Memorial Middle School, for a substitute teaching position in Sarasota County on Sept. 22, 2017, about one week after Peterson officially resigned from the school district. The principal gave his former employee a “superior” rating in every category.

When asked if he would re-employ Peterson, the principal marked “yes,” and he marked “no” when asked if he knew of any reason why Peterson should not work with children. Peterson was accused of inappropriate contact with students at Lincoln Memorial on two other occasions, though neither incident led to charges.

Before his resignation, the former teacher was on leave during an investigation — his third at the school — by the school district and the Palmetto Police Department. He was suspected of having sex with an underage girl, and though the allegation was never substantiated, new accusations came to light.

Authorities seized Peterson’s electronics and allegedly found pictures of a different girl, including one of her and Peterson in bed, leading to his departure from the school district.

Hundley later said he was unaware of the new evidence and the ongoing investigation, citing the fact that Peterson was never fired or arrested when the job recommendations were made.

But the school district pointed to an email from district attorney Teitelbaum, sent to to Hundley on July 28, 2017.

“Palmetto PD has an open investigation,” Teitelbaum wrote. “Waiting forensic results from FDLE. There was enough probable cause for a judge to issue a warrant to confiscate all the electronics.”

The principal endorsed his former employee a second time on Feb. 23, 2018. He said Peterson was never disciplined, despite having issued a letter of reprimand to the former music teacher in the previous year.

Though police decided not to charge Peterson after he allegedly touched a student’s thigh, former Superintendent Diana Greene felt he exercised “poor classroom management,” leading to the situation. The superintendent directed Hundley to reprimand his employee, and the principal made his disagreement clear in the letter.

“While I am fully aware that the accusations made against you in this matter were determined to be unfounded by all three investigating agencies (OPS, CPS, PPD), it is the determination of the superintendent that your actions warrant reprimand,” Hundley wrote.

Greene later reprimanded Hundley for telling Sarasota schools that his former music teachers was never disciplined, calling his statements “blatantly false.

Hundley’s second endorsement helped Peterson secure a full-time teaching position at Booker High School, in Sarasota, before his April 2018 arrest on a charge for possession of child pornography.

His jury trial is scheduled for Sept. 3.

Hundley repeatedly highlighted the fact that both job recommendations were made before Peterson’s arrest. He also said investigators with the school district and the Palmetto Police Department kept him in the dark when it came to vital updates in the investigation.

Scott Tyler, the Palmetto police chief, disputed Hundley’s claim in a past interview. He said the principal knew of milestones in the case, including the decision to file a capias request with the state attorney’s office.

In response to the fallout, Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells resigned from Lincoln Memorial’s governing board on July 25.

Two days later, a member of the Sarasota County School Board asked the district superintendent to request a criminal investigation of Hundley, citing a state law on false statements. Board member Bridget Ziegler also acknowledged Sarasota’s failure to check a state database and ensure that Peterson wasn’t under investigation.

“It is my opinion this man has no business being around children, and we need to take action today,” she wrote of Hundley.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office declined to investigate, finding that no crime took place in its jurisdiction.

In the same week, Lincoln Memorial’s governing board responded with a statement to defend Hundley and commend him for successfully converting the campus into a charter school. It said the backlash “smacks of racism and a tribal mentality.”

“The public saga of placing blame and seeking charges against Mr. Eddie Hundley, current principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy, who correctly and meticulously followed procedural standards regarding an employee at Lincoln Middle School over a year ago, is ludicrous,” it read.

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