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Education

Freedom principal resigns, claims harassment by former mistress

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Published:   |   Updated: December 12, 2013 at 09:00 AM

TAMPA — For nearly two years, David Sheppard served as a father figure as principal of Freedom High School in New Tampa.

He had his work cut out for him after transferring from rival Wharton High to replace a popular Freedom principal who was promoted to a new district post.

But the mild-mannered Sheppard managed to win over many in the school's 2,000-member student body and teaching staff.

So it came as a surprise to many when Sheppard stepped down as principal on Oct. 24, school officials said.

Most Freedom parents were not aware that a month earlier, a woman who Sheppard supervised and evaluated when he worked at Wharton had been charged with harassing and stalking him for nearly two years.

Tracey Seenath, 40, of New Tampa, was arrested Sept. 11 on a charge of aggravated stalking and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail and released on $10,000 bond.

At the time, Sheppard told Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies he had ended an extramarital affair with Seenath in December 2011, two months before his appointment as Freedom principal, according to court documents.

Soon after the breakup, Sheppard and his wife, Donna, began receiving harassing phone calls, visits, letters and items from Seenath, Sheppard told deputies, according to court documents.

Sheppard, who could not be reached for comment, told authorities Seenath sent thousands of emails to his work address and placed letters on his car and in the family mailbox.

Letters were also sent to Sheppard's co-workers and employers at the school district, records show.

Seenath, who worked as a secretary at Wharton, was transferred to school district's property control division, where she kept track of inventory and equipment, Hillsborough County school spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. She is still employed by the district, but has been suspended without pay.

Sheppard stepped down as principal of Freedom High on Oct 24. His wife, Donna, was found dead in the family swimming pool five days later.

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner has ruled Donna Sheppard's death a suicide.

Sheppard has a accepted a teaching position at Gaither High, Arja said. In January, Sheppard will teach science at the school on North Dale Mabry Highway.

Sheppard began his employment with the school district in 1993 as a science/biology/anatomy teacher at Leto High. He also taught at Wharton before he came a school administrator.

He has two children.

John Demmi, Seenath's attorney, said his client will be exonerated of all charges.

Demmi said Seenath is distraught over the media attention.

“She has a life, and she has kids,” Demmi said. “It's not fair.”

Seenath was arraigned this week on the aggravated stalking charge but did not have to appear in court. She is scheduled to appear in a Hillsborough court for a disposition hearing on Jan. 23.

kknight@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7413

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