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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Christina Butler, 33, is accused of having sex with a 16-year-old student.
TAMPA - About three weeks ago, 15-year-old Shatavia Kendricks mentioned to her mother rumors about a special education teacher having sex with a student at Middleton High School.
Each day, she would come home with more to the story: The teacher let boys look up inappropriate Web sites and hold the teacher's cell phone and keys. Girls weren't given the same treatment.
Shatavia's mother, Thelma Reeves, said she told her daughter to tell the assistant principal. And the girl said she did, twice.
Word got to principal Carl Green. But the teacher and student both denied it.
Shatavia kept talking, and Green suspended her until she and a guardian could meet with him - which took more than a week.
Turns out, it was more than a rumor.
On Tuesday, police arrested Christina Butler, a 33-year-old teacher for the mentally disabled, accusing her of having sex up to a dozen times with a 16-year-old boy.
Now, the girl, her mother and a county commissioner want to know why officials suspended her instead of believing her.
"Over the past few weeks our trust in figures of authority has been put to the test and it failed miserably," Commissioner Kevin White said Thursday at a news conference with Shatavia. "She was not only called a liar. She was thrown out of school."
If the allegations are found to be true, White said he wants law enforcement and school officials to investigate the district's policy on how students' criminal complaints are handled.
When Shatavia made her complaints to the school's principal, she said Green didn't take time to listen to her before taking action.
"He kept talking over me, and I couldn't tell him what was going on," she said, then broke down in tears when she recalled how other students singled her out for snitching.
"It was just obviously dismissed as a fabrication," said White, whose daughter attends Middleton but is not involved in the incident. He compared the school's reaction to ignoring a complaint of a gun on campus.
"It makes me so happy that this is my daughter's last year at that school," he said. "I think the bottom line is when we have people in power they need to act responsibly."
Hillsborough school officials see it differently.
Suspending the girl was not a punishment and the complaint was not dismissed, said Hillsborough school spokesman Stephen Hegarty.
Administrators first got wind of the rumor earlier this month, and the principal spoke with Butler and the student.
"He denied it. She denied it. We had nothing but a rumor on our hands," Hegarty said.
What Shatavia told administrators was all officials could look into, Hegarty said. They spoke to others, but no one else could verify the girl's story.
If the principal wanted, Green could have referred Shatavia's claims to the district's professional standards department, which is what school officials are to do in lieu of taking allegations to law enforcement, Hegarty said. But he didn't feel it was warranted.
"I'm not going to second guess the actions of the principal," he said.
In school, the girl continued to talk. Butler called the teacher's union. School administrators also were "taking steps to get more supervision for Butler's class," Hegarty said.
Administrators suspended the girl on Oct. 12, "pending conference," a fairly common action, Hegarty said. It is a tool to get parents to come in for a conference. She was not marked as "suspended" on her permanent record, and was allowed to make up missed assignments, he said.
She participated in a conference and returned to school Tuesday, Hegarty said.
But Shatavia's mother saw it as punishment. She is a single parent who works as a hotel housekeeper and couldn't get a day off until Tuesday because she had no vacation days left.
"It's hard for her to get back on track," Reeves said at White's news conference. Shatavia received several failing grades for missing school, Reeves said.
Reeves said assistant principal Audrey Miller met with her Tuesday and apologized, and told her the allegations were being investigated.
That same evening, police say they stumbled upon the teacher-student relationship.
Plainclothes police conducting surveillance at an apartment complex spotted six teens speeding away on bicycles Tuesday.
The teens then got into a blue Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove away, crossing the double-yellow center line. So police pulled it over, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said.
The teen driving told police that his friend, Butler, let him use her car.
The officers suspected a sexual relationship, and they questioned Butler, who at first denied it, but later told police the two had sex up to a dozen times, including Monday, Davis said.
Butler was charged with engaging in lewd or lascivious battery and was released from jail after posting $7,500 bail.
Hegarty said he had not been aware of the school's handling of the rumor when he spoke with reporters Wednesday, and learned more later from the principal, who was out of town.
He said he hoped Commissioner White had talked with school officials about his concerns.
"This was not dismissed. The principal talked to the people involved, who both denied it," he said. "The principal made a judgment call, as they do every day, and nobody's happy with the way this turned out."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 813 226-3373 or email@example.com.