Former Manatee kindergarten teacher threw students against wall, state says. She just retired

A former Manatee County school teacher repeatedly berated and physically abused her kindergarten students, including dragging them by the wrists and throwing them against a wall, during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a report published last month.

The abusive behavior eventually cost Sheri Anne Marie Fink her teaching license more than a year after the allegations were brought forward by a school volunteer at Braden River Elementary School.

Fink was never arrested by authorities nor was she fired by the school district. Instead, she was suspended for two days and transferred to another school. At the end of this past school year she retired after 18 years with the Manatee County School District.

The school district, citing criminal and child protective investigations by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said the allegations were deemed unfounded or found not to rise to the level of being criminal because of conflicting statements from the kindergartners and witnesses.

Multiple attempts to reach Fink for comment were not returned.

Fink was a teacher at Braden River Elementary School when, “on multiple occasions,” she lifted students by their arms and threw them against a wall, according to a complaint filed with the state’s Education Practices Commission by state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Other times, Fink grabbed students by their wrists and dragged them across the kindergarten classroom, the report continues.

The report notes Fink went beyond physical abuse.

Fink called the children “stupid and dumb,” and she “embarrassed students in front of their classmates by taunting them and asking if they needed their ba-ba or a diaper change,” the report states.

The district says it had notified the Florida Department of Education and received confirmation on June 25, 2018, that their report had been received and the state would be further investigating the matter.

After the conclusion of the school district’s professional standards investigation on Aug. 9, 2018, Fink was suspended for two days and issued a letter of reprimand, according to investigator Troy Nelson.

Fink was then transferred to teach first grade at Ballard Elementary.

Less than one year later, Fink was allowed to retire, according to minutes from the school board’s May 28 meeting. She officially retired on June 1.

Corcoran then filed a complaint against Fink’s educator certificate on Aug. 14. Instead of fighting the allegations, Fink quickly surrendered her license and it was permanently revoked.

The state issued a final order against Fink’s educator certificate on Sep. 25, meaning Fink can no longer apply for a license or teach in Florida’s public schools.

Fink was never charged with a crime.

According to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Randy Warren, two allegations of child abuse at the school were investigated but could not be substantiated during the 2017-18 school year. Specifics about those investigations, including whether they involved Fink, have not yet been made available by the sheriff’s office.

It was a volunteer at the school who reported the allegations on April 27, 2018, to the principal, after having volunteered in Fink’s classroom, according to school district investigator Nelson. That same day the principal reported the allegations to the Florida Department of Children and Families’ child abuse hotline. The report was accepted and sent to the sheriff’s office to investigate.

The sheriff’s office launched two investigations, a criminal probe and a child protection investigation. In Manatee County, the sheriff’s office handles all child welfare investigations for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“As soon as the allegation came forward, she was reassigned to have no contact with students,” Nelson said.

The criminal and child protective investigations continued into the summer while students and school staff were on break.

Child protective investigators did interview some of the children named as victims along with with their parents, but school district spokesman Michael Barber could not confirm Friday whether the principal had notified all the parents of students in Fink’s class or at the school of the allegations.

Again citing the child protective and law enforcement reports, Nelson said there were no visible injuries to any of the children.

Other staff of the school were questioned as part of the investigation of Fink, who previously had never been disciplined by the school district, he said.

Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.
Giuseppe Sabella, education reporter for the Bradenton Herald, holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He spent time at the Independent Florida Alligator, the Gainesville Sun and the Florida Times-Union. His coverage of education in Manatee County earned him a first place prize in the Florida Society of News Editors’ 2019 Journalism Contest. Giuseppe also spent one year in Charleston, W.Va., earning a first-place award for investigative reporting.