BROOKSVILLE - A first-grade Pine Grove Elementary School teacher was suspended 10 days without pay and transferred to an alternative assignment following an investigation into allegations she yelled in a middle school student's face, made disparaging racist remarks, and threw his backpack at him, according to a formal letter of reprimand.
Ellen Lewis, of Spring Hill, received the letter May 20, noting the investigated misconduct would be reported to the Florida Department of Education, Professional Practices, was to report to her alternative assignment June 4, and that she will be required to attend training on strategies to address student behavior.
A teacher came forward expressing concern over an incident that occurred April 5.
"She stated that during lab time, (a teacher) asked Mrs. Lewis to speak with one of her students because he was not working on the computer," reads a summary report by Assistant Principal Gina Michalicka. "According to (teacher), she went over and snatched the backpack from the student and bent down and started screaming at him for not doing his work.
"I also told Ms. Lewis that it is actually a Florida statute that a teacher should not purposely embarrass a student in front of his or her peers," the teacher reported. "Ms. Lewis said, 'I don't really care.'"
The yelling went on for several minutes, and the lab was silent as other students watched. Lewis then took the backpack to her room and told the student if he wanted it he would have to go to her room and get it, according to the statement, and Lewis left the lab. She then returned to the lab.
While this incident was being relayed from the teacher to Michalicka, the lab manager also appeared in Michalicka's office to report the incident, statements show.
"(Teacher) stated that at the end of the day the student went to Mrs. Lewis' (adjoined) class. She could see him in the classroom. She heard Mrs. Lewis yelling at him," Michalicka wrote. "She heard her say something along the lines of, 'Just because you are black doesn't mean you can get away with this. I will wipe the black right off of you.'
"She also heard her mention something about prison and getting a cell next to his father," Michalicka continued. "(The reporting teacher) told (Lewis) that her comments made her sound prejudiced and when he goes home and tells his parent there is going to be a situation. Lewis stated that she didn't care, that she would show them pictures of her ex-husband who is black and her boyfriend who is black."
According to Michalicka's summary report, a long-term administrator approached her April 3 to express concern over yelling and screaming she heard coming from Lewis' classroom.
"She also heard Mrs. Lewis tell a student, 'How stupid do you have to be?' . that her tone was harsh and she was very upset," Michalicka wrote. "She heard screaming during the reading block and math block."
Reports show when the student was brought to the office to discuss the incident and that his story of the incident was "basically the same" as that given by two teachers. The student also said the backpack landed on his chest and he caught it with both hands, and that it "really hurt and his chest was tingling."
"He stated that he used his fingernail to cut his knee because he was so angry and upset," Michalicka wrote. "I asked him if he told his mother what had happened and he said no. He stated that he did not want to upset his mom as his family is going through some issues."
"He stated that he put ice on his chest that night," Michalicka continued. "I called the nurse into my office for him to check for marks, et cetera. He told the nurse that it still hurts when he exhales."
Lewis was called into Michalicka's office to discuss the incidents, and Lewis said her students just got back from spring break, and that they were misbehaving, and that was why she screamed and yelled at them. Lewis also said she called the student into her room because she felt he needed to apologize for not doing his work, according to the reports.
"I asked her if she said anything about him going to jail. She stated that she told him if he continued to act like this in middle school that he would be sent to STAR and wind up in jail if he didn't stay on the right track," Michalicka wrote. "She was asked about the comments pertaining to his race and she denied making any comments in regards to that."
Lewis also stated she did not throw the backpack at the student, and that when the student left the class he said "(expletive) you" to another teacher then threw his backpack at her first-grade students lined up outside the class, then ran off.
"When I spoke with (the teacher) she did not recall the student saying that specifically to her," Michalicka noted. "She also stated that he had the backpack as he was running to PE and it wasn't until he was almost at PE that he threw the backpack."
A DCF caseworker and Hernando County Sheriff's Deputy questioned all those involved in the incident. The sheriff's office determined not to arrest Lewis, and the case was forwarded to the Attorney General's Office for pending action. According to the letter of reprimand, Lewis is required to submit proof of successful completion of student behavior training by Oct. 15.