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Porter gives up her fight to teach
The hit-run driver shifts her focus to her dance studio rather than battle for her teaching credentials.
By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 31, 2007
Jennifer Porter wants to get on with her life in private, attorney Barry Cohen said. She drew the public spotlight in March 2004 for hitting four children with her car and driving away. Two of the children died. She was sentenced to house arrest and probation.
[Times photo: Ken Helle (2005)]
TAMPA -- Jennifer Porter has had enough.
The former Hillsborough County dance teacher, who fled an accident that killed two children and injured two others, has given up her fight to return to a public school classroom.
"She wants to get on with her life," attorney Barry Cohen said Thursday. He was scheduled to represent Porter next week in a hearing concerning her right to teach in Florida.
Instead, Porter is relinquishing her certification voluntarily, he said. She has decided to focus on her private dance studio rather than face another public spotlight in the racially charged incident.
Porter, 31, was allowed to avoid jail time after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of the accident.
"She is interacting with the children, and teaching them and loving them and being a good influence in their lives, and just is not going to continue to subject herself to public ridicule and more public criticism," Cohen said.
The Porter case has ignited strong passions, for some laced with racial overtones. Porter is white; the children, black.
In March 2004, Porter drove on after a collision with four siblings, ages 2 to 13, who were crossing a dark street near North Tampa's Muller Elementary, where Porter worked as a dance teacher.
The impact killed 13-year-old Bryant Wilkins and his 3-year-old brother, Durontae Caldwell, and left the two others seriously injured.
After the accident, Porter sought refuge in Land O'Lakes, where she lived with her parents. Her father wiped the blood off her car, which he then stored in the garage. Five days passed before she came forward publicly.
During her sentencing, family, friends and students vouched for a woman who had no prior record. The defense's psychiatric experts said Porter had suffered an acute stress reaction after seeing a body hit her windshield, and drove away on auto-pilot.
A judge decided that Porter did not need to serve jail time. She was sentenced to two years of house arrest, ending in several months, and three years of probation in November 2005.
Still, the future of her right to teach in Florida remained in question.
Shortly after the accident, the Hillsborough School Board suspended Porter without pay. She later resigned.
This spring, her case was scheduled to come before the state's Education Practices Commission. Teachers who commit felonies can face penalties ranging from suspension to revocation of their teaching credentials.
Porter and her attorney sought a formal state hearing to argue for her right to return to a classroom.
It was set to begin next week in Tampa.
Within the past few days, Porter decided to give up her teaching certification, Cohen said.
"I thought she could prevail, despite the political component to these kinds of proceedings," he said.
"She just was not emotionally ready to go through that process."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.