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Teacher charged with having sex
|[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
St. Petersburg detectives Don Crotty, left, and Bill Burris escort Edward G. Wylie for transport to Pinellas County Jail on Friday. Wylie, a former teacher at Gibbs High, is charged with two counts of having sex with a minor.
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 8, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- By the time Ed Wylie applied to teach in Pinellas County, he had been kicked out of one or two smaller Florida school districts for dating underage students. Authorities say he had married one of his former students in Putnam County and had gotten a Polk County student pregnant.
Wylie's teaching certificate had been permanently revoked. He had been working at Wal-Mart for years.
He got hired anyway.
Wylie, 41, taught social studies at Gibbs High School until the beginning of this past school year. On Friday, after a prolonged investigation, he was arrested on charges of having sex with an underage girl from one of his classes.
He had resigned from his teaching job after one of his four ex-wives told investigators about his past. He recently pled no contest in a separate case in which neighbors reported seeing him streaking.
What was Ed Wylie doing in a Pinellas County classroom in the first place? With a record like his, how did he get hired?
Pinellas school officials say they did their usual checks before giving Wylie a job in 1994, but they were tripped up by two bureaucratic mistakes:
Wylie asked for and got a new Florida teaching certificate from the state in 1994, even though the state had "permanently" revoked his certificate in 1988. The state Department of Education calls this a "clerical error."
Somehow, Wylie got a positive reference from the Polk County school district, where in 1987 he had been accused of getting a high-school student drunk at a drive-in and impregnating her.
When it comes to hiring teachers, "there are two primary safety nets in place that we rely on that didn't work," said Jacqueline Spoto, lawyer for the Pinellas school district. "They have generally been very good safety nets for us. If not for the error in Tallahassee, he would never have taught school here."
Also, despite the accusations made against him earlier in his teaching career, Wylie was never arrested and had no criminal record.
Wylie denies doing anything wrong. According to school administrators, he has been looking for another teaching position. His lawyer says he has landed a job as a football coach at a school in Georgia.
Wylie had been out of town recently and was arrested Friday morning when he checked in with his probation officer in St. Petersburg. He had been on probation since pleading no contest to disorderly conduct in the streaking incident.
Last fall, St. Petersburg police had come to a dead end in their investigation of Wylie's relationship with a Gibbs High student. The girl, then 16, denied having sex with Wylie, so the case was closed.
But police detectives Julie Bryan and Don Crotty recently reopened the case. They questioned the girl's friends. More than once, they questioned the girl, now 17. Finally, a week ago, she admitted having sex with her former teacher, Crotty said.
Wylie, of 5545 Fourth Ave. N, St. Petersburg, is charged with two counts of sexual activity with a minor. He was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.
"He was aware of these allegations. He voluntarily came back here to face these charges," said his lawyer, Gregory "Skip" Olney. "He's confident that the truth will come out and that he will be vindicated."
Meanwhile, detectives are looking for other victims.
Wylie taught in Pinellas for five years and was doing reasonably well at Gibbs, where supervisors considered him an effective and engaging teacher.
Then, in July 1999, a psychiatric counselor called the state's Child Abuse Registry. One of Wylie's sons, who lived with Wylie, told the counselor that his father and a female high-school student had been spending time in Wylie's bedroom with the door closed. The counselor was required to report this.
Police spoke to the boy's mother, Sherry King, who had been Wylie's second wife. King believed her son. She said she knew how Wylie operated because he had done the same thing with her.
King said she had been a 16-year-old student in Putnam County, just east of Gainesville, when she started living with Wylie, then a 27-year-old teacher. King said Wylie was fired from that teaching job, and they got married after she turned 18.
The Times has been unable to confirm why Wylie left Putnam County, or what Putnam school records say about him.
When Wylie applied to teach public school in Polk County in 1984, he did not mention his job in Putnam County. On his application, he wrote that he had been working in a movie theater and a music store.
In Polk County, Wylie taught at Mulberry High School for three years until new allegations surfaced. State Education Department documents show that in 1987 he was accused of taking a 17-year-old student to a drive-in, buying two six-packs of beer for them to drink and getting her pregnant.
Mulberry High didn't bring him back the next year. The case was referred to child welfare investigators. But Wylie never faced criminal charges.
The state Education Practices Commission found Wylie guilty of "gross immorality or an act of moral turpitude" and permanently revoked his Florida teaching certificate in 1988.
He got a new one six years later.
"A clerk failed to flag the file back in 1988," said JoAnn Carrin, state Education Department spokeswoman. "When he reapplied, there was nothing to warn anybody."
In his 1994 job application for Pinellas public schools, Wylie wrote, "I like to be available to students and assist them in overcoming any obstacles in their educational endeavors."
Before hiring Wylie, the Pinellas district did a criminal background check; contacted references, including the head of the social studies department at Mulberry High; checked that he had a valid teaching certificate; and sent form letters to his three previous school districts, asking if they would rehire him.
Indian River County said it would rehire Wylie. Putnam County wrote back, "unknown."
In Polk County, Assistant Superintendent Donald Cox filled out Pinellas' questionnaire. Records show that, in previous years, Cox had received plenty of documentation about Wylie's problems in Polk. But in 1994, Cox wrote, "yes," Polk would rehire Wylie.
Current Polk administrators don't know why. Cox has since retired, and no one has asked him about it.
The allegations about Wylie and a 16-year-old Gibbs student came to light in July 1999.
Police questioned Wylie's son, who said that the girl had been coming over to Wylie's house since the end of the school year and that she and Wylie often went into Wylie's room and shut the door.
Under questioning, Wylie said his son was exaggerating. He said that he was the kind of teacher who was always there to help his students and that the girl had come over a few times to talk about problems.
The girl said the same thing, but school officials didn't believe her.
The girl's mother had found love notes. And in Wylie's desk was a girl's photo with a note: "Wylie, you should come visit me more."
Wylie's neighbor often saw a young girl at Wylie's. A woman in Wylie's polka band saw him making out with a girl at a few gigs.
Wylie resigned and took other jobs. He worked as a solicitor for an investment company and then as a newspaper carrier for the St. Petersburg Times.
Pinellas school officials are disturbed by Wylie's case, wondering what they could have done differently. Spoto said no national clearinghouse tracks problem teachers.
- Times staff writer Jounice L. Nealy and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Anyone with further information about Wylie is asked to call detectives Julie Bryan, 727-893-4093, or Don Crotty, 727-893-7563.