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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Was justice served in teacher’s firing?

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I don’t know Ingrid Peavy, never met her, never talked to her.

I do know she made a mistake. It was an error in judgment that could have been tragic; could have cost an innocent life.

By now I suppose most of you have made your judgement and moved on. Not me.

Just to refresh you, Peavy, 34, was a special education teacher at Pierce Middle School in Hillsborough County.

The incident happened on Oct. 29, 2012, when a student assigned to Peavy’s fourth-period class failed to show up. The reality was that the student frequently didn’t show up and the sixth-grade student had a habit of wandering away.

On this occasion, that is what happened. The student left the campus and walked approximately 6 miles home, fortunately arriving unharmed.

It’s about here that things start getting a little muddled, largely over a recent change the week before the incident on procedures. There is no doubt that Peavy did not follow the newest protocols, whether by intent or carelessness.

In the aftermath, there were investigations, and Peavy had been suspended without pay since last April.

It didn’t help that the incident happened one week after another special-needs child disappeared from another middle school and drowned in a nearby pond.

This past week, following a child investigative report from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Hillsborough County School Board voted 4-3 to fire Peavy.

You can understand a 4-3 vote. It demonstrated that the board was not convinced this was the way to go. You can also understand the emotions of any parent who leaves his or her child in the care of the system, especially if that child has special needs.

But the more I read the more I wonder if Peavy was too easy a target — just a little too easy to take the tumble for a system that ultimately failed, as well. You can’t tell me that the school’s system is so thin that one lapse can allow something like this to happen.

In that one moment of carelessness by a teacher who has drawn strong praise from colleagues for her dedication and determination in a tough job, you wonder if justice was served or if a career was needlessly destroyed in a rush to judgment.

Sometimes I think we might not spend enough time taking intent into consideration.

There has been a rash of scandals in the news in recent weeks involving alleged cheating in the military. The most grievous appears to involve the same missile men who handle the nation’s nuclear missile strike force. That ought to make you a tad nervous as well, especially because here are incidents where there was apparently intent to deceive.

Peavy’s intent was never to deceive. She made one mistake unintentionally and yet an entire system of checks and double-checks on the safety and whereabouts of one special-needs child is apparently dependent on one teacher?

It’s only an opinion, and in mine, there is no question she should have been disciplined.

But to fire someone who only meant to do the right thing in a career field that is desperate for quality professionals was not only a mistake, but reason enough to take another look at the entire system of procedures.

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