Hearing underway for Gilchrist ag teacher
Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 5:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 5:27 p.m.
A hearing began Friday for the Gilchrist County teacher of the year accused of acting inappropriately with several female students.
Gilchrist County Schools Superintendent Rob Rankin recommended termination for Steve Broker, a veteran agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America adviser at Trenton Middle/High School, earlier this year following allegations that Broker touched and interacted with female students in an unprofessional way.
In his June 24 deposition, Broker, 56, admitted he gave a back rub to a 15-year-old female student while on an overnight field trip to Tampa after she complained of back pain, while a few of her classmates looked on.
Broker also told investigators he co-signed for a car for a former student and fronted her money for various purchases, which she later paid back.
A search of Broker’s school computer revealed he had a file containing 61 photos of the same female former student, according to the deposition, read in part by school board attorney Susan Seigle on Friday.
“This is a difficult case,” Seigle said in an opening statement to the School Board.
“There’s no question that he’s an excellent teacher,” she said, citing Broker’s nearly 30 years as an educator and his instrumental role in the FFA program at Trenton Middle/High.
Rather, she said, the case is about professional boundaries being crossed.
But Broker’s attorney, Martin Powell, insists district investigators have taken the allegations out of context and blown them out of proportion.
“This is not a difficult case,” Powell said. “It’s a case of overreaching, overzealous prosecution.”
One of the allegations listed in a complaint filed by Rankin in May was that Broker frequently put his hands in the pockets of female students, or grabbed them by their belt loops.
Powell countered that Broker, whose hearing has worsened, was trying to get the attention of mumbling teenagers as they walked away from him by grabbing the girls’ pockets.
The same with the back rub in the hotel room, Powell said. Broker was coming to the aid of a student who felt ill while away from home, Powell said.
“You will not hear any of the students say that there was ill intent,” Powell said.
Neither the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office nor the Department of Children and Families, both of which performed investigations, found any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. No criminal charges will be filed.
Despite that, Rankin is still recommending that the school board end Broker’s contract with the district.
“It is not a crime to be in a hotel room with a 15-year-old girl, but it does cross a professional line,” Seigle said.
Both Seigle and Powell are calling witnesses in the hearing, including teachers who witnessed Broker interacting with students and a pastor who will speak to Broker’s character.
Heather Rucker, who has taught agriculture and acted as an FFA adviser for the middle-school grades at Trenton Middle/High for five years, said she knew Broker had a reputation of playing favorites with students.
“I’ve heard rumors since I’ve been here,” Rucker said Friday. “I didn’t want to believe any of it, and I didn’t have any proof that there was anything going on, so I ignored it.”
Rucker said she didn’t believe there was sexual intent in many of the allegations brought against Broker.
But, she said, students came to her following the back rub incident and told her they felt uncomfortable and were thinking of quitting FFA because of Broker’s actions.
That was a red flag, she said.
The hearing will continue on Monday. The School Board is expected to make a decision about whether to terminate Broker by the end of the day.
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.