Teacher, district reach a deal

Suspended after a student's money was stolen, he might soon return to work.

By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008

BROOKSVILLE - It was described by school officials as a clear case of theft, and a firing offense.

But suspended teacher Shawn Bingham might soon return to his job at Hernando High School under a tentative settlement reached Wednesday with the school district.

In October, the School Board suspended Bingham without pay, after the 37-year-old coach and health teacher was spotted on a surveillance video picking up a student's wallet and returning it a short time later.

The student said $75 was removed from the wallet after he placed it on a bleacher in the gym on Sept. 17. But Bingham swore he wasn't the one who took it.

"I noticed the wallet was empty with no contents," he told district investigators. "I proceeded to collect the rest of the basketballs and gather my belongings for my next class, and as I came back across the gym I set the wallet down where I found it on the gym bench."

The State's Attorney's Office later subpoenaed the district for a copy of that tape, but charges were never filed. And officials concede the series of still images on the tape is inconclusive; it doesn't show money being removed from the wallet, and at least one other student can be seen nearby.

Under the settlement agreement, which the School Board must still approve, Bingham would return to work but not regain lost pay from his two-month suspension.

Superintendent Wayne Alexander said that's a fair penalty for his failure to follow district policy by not bringing the lost wallet directly to the school office and filing a proper report.

Alexander wouldn't say whether the agreement was reached due to a lack of firm evidence or the introduction of new evidence that showed Bingham's innocence.

"It could be any of those things, which I'm not at liberty to speak about," Alexander said.

"I remain confident in the initial recommendation to the board to terminate his employment," he added. "I remain confident the recommendation I made at that time was correct."

Bingham could not be reached for comment Thursday on the terms of the agreement.

But Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association union, which represented him during the dispute, said the teacher had run out of time to prove his innocence.

"It's pretty stiff," Vitalo said of the penalty. "(But) he had to look at his family needs. He's tapped out, and he's going to lose his home if he doesn't have a job."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 584-5537.