Praise halts for teacher in wake of allegations

Officials choose silence after a teacher is accused of having a relationship with a student.

Published November 3, 2005

LECANTO - In the classroom, Amy Gail Lilley earned praise for her willingness to help students at Lecanto High School who struggled with vocabulary and typing.

On the field, Lilley was recognized for her dedication to the girl's softball team, which she coached and helped lead to state championships one year.

"Mrs. Lilley has helped strengthen the business department. She has been a dedicated coach and teacher," Steve Richardson, the school's former principal, wrote in a 1996 evaluation.

But on Wednesday, Richardson and other colleagues were silent about Lilley.

Lilley, 36, was suspended with pay after, authorities say, she acknowledged a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old female student during the past two months Lilley was arrested Tuesday at the school on one count of lewd or lascivious battery, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. She was released Wednesday after posting $5,000 bail.

Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel said she would not comment while the case is under investigation. But at least two School Board members all but officially called for either Lilley's resignation or immediate dismissal.

"She's fired," said board member Ginger Bryant. "You don't mess with children."

According to an arrest report, Lilley and the student began a sexual relationship after the two shared a kiss in August at Lilley's Beverly Hills home.

It's unclear how long Lilley and the student have known each other. Sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said district staff members alerted law officers Monday about a sexual relationship between Lilley and the student.

When contacted by investigators, the student, whose name is not being released because of her age and the nature of the case, said she was having a sexual relationship with Lilley. The girl said the two engaged in sexual activities, including oral sex, on numerous occasions while she stayed at Lilley's former home in Beverly Hills. They last had sex Friday, the girl told authorities.

According to the report, the girl was "very distraught" when investigators told her that Lilley had initially denied having any sexual contact with her. The two loved each other, the girl told investigators.

Lilley confessed to a sexual relationship in a second interview after investigators took her into custody, the report said.

Lilley could not be reached for comment Wednesday. No one answered the door at her parents' house.

Lilley, then known as Amy Spate, graduated from Lecanto High in 1987. She has two children and was divorced in 2000 from her husband, Burley.

Lilley resigned from coaching in May. She led the Panthers to a 148-136 record in 11 seasons, including a state title in 1996, but went 8-14 this past season.

"The administration felt like there needed to be a change," Lilley told the Times earlier this year, adding that she wanted more time to spend with her kids. "I'm fine with it, now. I think it will be better for everybody."

Robert Dupler, who replaced Lilley as softball coach at Lecanto High, was an assistant under Lilley for eight seasons until 2002. He declined to comment for this story, as did Lecanto athletic director Dick Slack.

"This is a terrible situation," Citrus High School softball coach Mike Reynolds said. "I would hope that she is innocent and there is a misunderstanding, but you just never know. Reynolds said the news shocked him.

"I never saw any indication," Reynolds said. "But you don't really know what goes on and what other people do."

School Board Chairwoman Pat Deutschman said she was "appalled" by Lilley's admission.

"It's so disheartening to see that people who have chosen a career to work with children and who are entrusted with their care would abuse that privilege and turn into sexual offenders themselves," she said. "It's just unthinkable."

Lilley has taught business courses at Lecanto High since 1993. Her annual salary is $39,400.