4 Pace High teachers cleared of harassment, inappropriate behavior
An internal investigation into a wide variety of accusations against four Pace High School teachers found no evidence to support the allegations, and all four teachers have been allowed to return to work.
The teachers in question were placed on administrative leave in June pending an investigation, which came at the same time that a fifth teacher was being investigated for posting Facebook comments that were accused of being racist.
The teacher accused of making the racist Facebook post, Lisa Dillashaw, is still on administrative leave, and the investigation into her case remains ongoing, according to Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick.
She declined to comment when reached by the News Journal on Tuesday.
The four teachers, P.E. teacher Tim Dillashaw (Lisa Dillashaw's husband), social studies teacher Scott Denny, social studies teacher Stephanie Jernigan-Watson and performing arts teacher Valerie Wright, have all been allowed to return to work.
None of the four teachers responded to the News Journal's request for comment.
Once the school district launched an investigation into Lisa Dillashaw's social media posts about Black students and scholarships, former students began emailing the superintendent with allegations about other teachers at the high school who they claim acted inappropriately, according to records obtained by the News Journal.
"I am aware of your recent correspondence Mrs. Lisa Dillashaw's ... overtly racist and improper comments on social media. I applaud your swift action in that matter," one student wrote to Wyrosdick in an email dated June 3. "However, I do want you to understand that in my personal experience as confirmed by nearly hundreds of other alumni, this is NOT an isolated issue at Pace High School."
The allegations against the four other teachers included instances of alleged sexism and racism. They were isolated from one another and did not have anything to do with Lisa Dillashaw's posts.
An investigation by Pace High School Principal Stephen Shell found no corroborating evidence to substantiate the claims made by the students against the four other teachers.
One student emailed Wyrosdick claiming that Dillashaw, as a coach, would "harass" his female students.
The student claimed that "the constant harassment of female students from Coach Dillashaw made me and my male peers very uncomfortable in gym/weightlifting class," according to an email dated June 3.
A separate email sent June 5 by another former student claimed there was a Facebook post circulating that detailed multiple instances of "inappropriate behavior" by Dillashaw. Wyrosdick told the student in the email that it is Wyrosdick's “duty to report any action that can be construed as violating child protection laws or an unprofessional behavior," and said he would do “this immediately in EVERY situation,” according to the emails.
Wyrosdick asked the student to tell the posters on Facebook to relay any specific information they had about the allegations immediately to the principal so they could be further investigated.
Principal Shell said that as of June 16, he hadn't received any emails about Dillashaw.
In an email to the News Journal on Monday, Wyrosdick said he had not reported any of the accusations against Dillashaw to the authorities due to a lack of substantiating evidence.
"To be clear, the incident(s) has been investigated to our fullest ability," Wyrosdick said in the email. "Individuals reporting these 'allegations' did not provide validated information or individuals who could validate any of the allegations. As a matter of fact, after repeated attempts to ask for corroborated information, our requests were denied. Without validated and corroborated information, we could not move forward."
In a brief statement provided to the district investigators on June 11, Dillashaw briefly addressed the comments and said he did not know what they were.
"I have not been provided with any specific inappropriate comments that I allegedly made to a student," he wrote. "Therefore, I cannot confirm or deny any alleged statements I made until I have been informed what those specific statements are."
Shell also noted in his review of Dillashaw's conduct an incident that occurred in October 2019 during which a parent and student reported inappropriate comments Dillashaw made concerning girls, women and their bodies.
According to the report, Dillashaw told a group of students, "Ladies, look at your moms, because that is what you will look like in 20 years, so if you don’t like it, you better start exercising.”
He also went on to say, “ladies, you better make sure you are working out, because later in life it is going to be important to look good, to keep your spouse from looking elsewhere.”
Dillashaw admitted to making the comments in an interview with Shell and said he was making generalized health comments, according to the disciplinary report.
Shell told Dillashaw the comments were inappropriate and to not make them again.
Dillashaw had also been investigated by the Department of Education during the 2019-2020 school year for allegedly using his cellphone while driving a school bus.
Shell later cleared Dillashaw of wrongdoing and allowed him to return to his teaching and coaching duties.
"After reviewing the emails and discussing/questioning Mr. Dillashaw’s alleged actions, I feel confident Mr. Dillashaw acted in a responsible manner concerning these allegations," Shell wrote in his report of the investigation. "I will re-address this matter if I receive any form of correspondence from an individual with firsthand information concerning any inappropriate teacher conduct by Mr. Dillashaw."
Two separate students emailed Wyrosdick in early June accusing social studies teacher Scott Denny of making inappropriate comments about women and sexual assault.
"Coach Denny said sexist and sexual content explicitly to my female peers in first period of 2018 about how women who dress a certain way ask for it," one student wrote. Another student sent an email with nearly identical accusations.
The superintendent asked each student for other witnesses or information that could corroborate their claims. One student responded with exact dates and times, as well as multiple other witnesses.
In a lengthy letter to district investigators, Denny defended his remarks and said they were taken out of context. The remarks were made during discussion of the sexualization of women's bodies during an AP Psychology class.
"The allegation claimed that I had also stated that when women dress provocatively, they are asking for it," Denny wrote. "This statement was taken out of context in our discussion of the sexualization of women and girls. What I stated was that some may claim (emphasis his) that if a woman dresses provocatively they are asking for it or are making themselves a target. I then asked students for their thoughts on this statement. Those who responded had similar opinions that this mindset was wrong."
Denny said that as soon as he became aware of how students had construed the statements, he had altered the way he teaches that particular lesson.
Shell cleared Denny of any wrongdoing.
"After reviewing the emails and discussing/questioning Mr. Denny concerning their contents, I feel confident Mr. Denny acted in a responsible manner concerning this allegation, addressed it at the time appropriately, and has modified his curriculum moving forward to lessen the opportunity for students to possibly become offended when dealing with the sometimes sensitive material covered in AP Psychology," Shell wrote.
Five separate students emailed Wyrosdick concerning social studies and government teacher Stephanie Jernigan-Watson with allegations ranging from displaying a Confederate flag in her classroom to sleeping on the job.
One student provided photos of the Confederate flag in question, and Jernigan-Watson admitted to displaying it during a follow-up interview with Shell.
"She said she did (display the flag) during the year, but had already started redecorating for the upcoming year. Her walls are covered with all types of historic artifacts," Shell wrote in his report. "She said that she re-organizes her displays often and is not planning on utilizing the Confederate flag as a general display in her room moving forward."
Another student accused the teacher of teaching the Civil War as the "war of northern aggression" and telling students that slavery wasn't the point of the war, it was about "taxation and state's rights." Jernigan-Watson told Shell that she "teaches all causes and effects of the Civil War."
In additional emails, students accused Jernigan-Watson of sleeping through entire class periods, cursing and showing shows that have no relevancy to subject matter covered in class, like the TV show "West Wing." The teacher told Shell that she sometimes has migraines during the school day and chooses to turn the lights down, close her eyes and lean her head back in her chair as opposed to calling for a substitute.
"I instructed her to always inform administration when she has an issue that will cause her to not be able to teach/supervise her students in an acceptable manner," Shell wrote in his report.
In a letter addressing the allegations, Jernigan-Watson said students had given her the affectionate nickname "Mama J" and that she is "a teacher from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and ALL students at Pace High School are my main concern while doing my job."
Jernigan-Watson also said that she acknowledged some of the history of American government can be controversial to some students, but she did her best to integrate current events, videos and other reading materials into her lesson plans.
"Upon permission to return to school from Administrative Leave, I have walls and bulletin boards waiting to be decorated. It is something that I have done since I was given a classroom of my own (no longer floating)," Jernigan-Watson wrote in her letter. "Over the past 24 years of teaching I have bought many historical decorations, and I have been given many different things by students to add to my collection. In no way have I ever displayed anything in my room to intentionally make anyone feel uncomfortable. To make sure that I am sensitive to this, Mr. Shell will be monitoring my room as my decorations are completed."
Shell was satisfied that his investigation into Jernigan-Watson was completed and returned no cause to dismiss her. She was also allowed to return to work.
Drama teacher Valerie Wright was accused by one student of "(blowing) up in parents/students' faces, body shaming young actresses, and (telling) a student to their face that they will not amount to anything," the student said.
The student provided dates, times and witnesses of the incidents in question, but Wright refuted them.
"I have never 'body shamed' any of my students and I completely deny that allegation," she wrote in a letter provided to district investigators. "I deny that I have 'blown up' at students or parents."
She also claimed that the comment toward a student saying that they would not amount to anything was taken out of context, and she had been trying to help the struggling student and told the student that if they continued on the path they were on, they wouldn't amount to anything.
Shell cleared Wright of wrongdoing.
"After reviewing the emails and discussing/questioning Ms. Wright concerning their contents, I feel confident Ms. Wright acted in a responsible manner concerning these accusations," Shell wrote. "I will re-address this matter if I receive any form of correspondences from any individual with any additional firsthand information concerning any inappropriate teacher conduct by Ms. Wright."
Annie Blanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8632.