“I couldn’t believe it at first, but then I believed it because I had actually warned them it was going to happen again,” said a parent who said his child was involved.
HAINES CITY, Fla. — A teacher and coach accused of sending an inappropriate Snapchat photo to a student was able to get another job at a Tampa Bay-area school when he was already under investigation speak state of florida.
And then Wayne Ricks was arrested again. A certificate that allows him to continue teaching remained valid.
“The Educational Practices Commission takes the agency’s final action against teaching certificates,” said Lisa Forbess, executive director of the commission. “Once the matter has been investigated by the Department of Education and the Commissioner has found probable cause, the matter is taken to the Education Profession Commission (EPC ) for judgment.”
The 2018 case that 10 Investigates is looking at – allegations involving Ricks – has still not been presented to the EPC. We even asked them, “Do you have anything to do with how long it takes for a deal to reach you?”
Forbess said, “The only part we have is once it’s filed with us after probable cause is found, and it’s ready to be heard, and then we set the hearing schedule.”
“We trusted a person to take care of the children,” said a parent who asked us to hide his identity to protect his child. “I didn’t expect them to be unsafe with someone, especially a coach, a teacher.
“When all this happened, it surprised us. This made us angry.
The child reportedly received gifts from Ricks, a Poinciana High School teacher and basketball coach, which included an iPhone for $699.99 plus tax.
“The kindness this person was showing was actually what’s called grooming,” the parent said.
Ricks, according to state and school documents from Kissimmee, Florida, also carried students without parental permission and sent an inappropriate photo via Snapchat. In 2018, Ricks was charged in Osceola County Court with forwarding stalking material to a minor.
At the same time, the Florida Department of Education launched its own investigation into the allegations to determine if there was probable cause to act against his teaching license.
And while the courts found him not guilty of sending the photo, “he escaped on a Snapchat technicality with the jury,” the parent said. The Department of Education eventually convicted him of sending the photo, kissing a student and buying him gifts, but that was only two years after his arrest.
Probable cause came from the state on Feb. 11, 2021 — a week after he was arrested on charges of repeatedly sexually assaulting a student in a classroom closet at Haines City High School in Polk County. The two also reportedly spend time together outside of school, according to police.
“I couldn’t believe it at first, but then I believed it because I had actually warned them it was going to happen again. I wrote an email to the Ministry of Education,” the parent said. .
RELATED: Haines City High School Teacher Arrested, Charged With Sexual Assault With Student
Teacher’s certificate still valid even under investigation
State law says the department must immediately investigate any legally sufficient complaint involving misconduct by a certified staff member that affects a student’s health, safety, or welfare – the problem? There is no specific time frame for when an investigation is supposed to take place.
10 Investigators faced dozens of disciplinary actions from other teachers across the state who were found guilty of harassing or inappropriately touching a student or employee and found that most of them had put more than a year before action is taken on the certificate.
This means that these teachers can continue to work even if they are under investigation.
A teacher was found guilty of putting his hands on another teacher’s shirt and squeezing her breasts, but the then education commissioner came to the conclusion a year after the charges were brought.
Another teacher was accused of having students sit on his lap and making inappropriate comments. Probable cause, in this case, arose two years after the investigation began.
We have been trying to get answers from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on how long these investigations take and why a teacher under investigation for kissing a student might be hired in the process.
We caught up with him at a press conference in Tampa.
“If you want to reach out today, I’ll talk to my office,” said Corcoran, who mentioned that the Florida Legislature and DeSantis administration had been pushing for a list of “bad actors” to track violators. accused.
We called and emailed for a month after this conversation with no response or interview.
“I believe they put that aside and didn’t follow through on what they should have done. They are responsible for what happens. For them, not stopping this early on has led to minors becoming victims,” the parent said.
Audit shows Polk County schools failed to check references
The questions do not stop at the Ministry of Education. 10 Investigators also wanted to know how this basketball teacher and coach came to be hired in Polk County through this investigation.
His certificate was active, but wouldn’t his past have been a red flag during background checks? According to an audit, the ball was dropped on some background checks.
A January 2021 audit by the Florida Auditor General found that background checks at Polk County public schools needed improvement. Although they never named Ricks by name, the dates surrounding the individual in the report match Ricks’ hire dates.
The audit indicates that the district never contacted any of the teacher’s references. He goes on to say that the district in the future should ensure that three references are made and that background checks are performed.
“No, thank you. We have provided you with a written statement,” Polk County Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid said when asked to comment on the audit and Ricks’ hiring.
The district sent the following statement:
“All PCPS employees are required to undergo and pass the following background check requirements: Level 1 Local and Level 2 FBI and NCIC (National Crime Information Center). These background checks were conducted in accordance with state and district policies on the individual referenced in the audit report prior to their hiring. At the time, this individual had no criminal history that would automatically disqualify him from the job.
“The candidate had an active and eligible certificate at the time of his hiring, otherwise he would not have been eligible for employment. In light of the audit report, our staff investigators are now reviewing applications to determine if an applicant has ever been investigated and whether this should disqualify them for employment. Previously, the hiring administrator was responsible for screening the candidate for this exam. »
We tried to interview the elected official whose district covers Haines City High School.
We tried to contact district staff, at their request, but with no answers, we also tried to talk to them outside of a council workshop, asking them, “Parents want to know – what are you doing to make sure students are safe?”
“No, I think you media want to know. Thank you. Excuse me. I’m finished. No, our staff will take care of that, thank you. Oh my God, what a lack of respect. How can you be so disrespectful to us? said Polk County School District School Board member-elect Lori Cunningham.
We explained to him that the district had refused our interview request and wanted to hear from a council member. She continued to call us disrespectful as we searched for answers.
“They are all responsible for the fact that this other child happened,” the parent said. “It ruined us. There needs to be change, more checks and balances put in place. These are our children, these are our future.
We contacted the Educational Practices Commission one last time and they say they still don’t have the case regarding Ricks and probable cause outside of Osceola County.