Seminole teacher could lose job over loaded gun found at school
Here's the story
Dave Weber | Sentinel Staff Writer
January 13, 2009
SANFORD - A veteran Seminole County teacher whose loaded handgun turned up on a driveway at Heathrow Elementary School is fighting to keep her job.
Michele McGhee says she accidentally picked up the .357 Smith & Wesson with items to take to school and apparently dropped it on the bus loop on her way into the building on Dec. 12, 2007. A school secretary found the gun and McGhee's cell phone a few minutes later.
Superintendent Bill Vogel said Wednesday the error is unforgivable and she must be fired.
"It is the most serious situation a principal or superintendent has to deal with when a loaded firearm is on campus. Anything can happen," Vogel told an administrative-law judge, who will recommend what punishment McGhee should receive.
Vogel said he is haunted by the shooting death of a Milwee Middle School student three years ago. Chris Penley was killed by Sheriff's Office sharpshooters after brandishing a pistol that turned out to be fake.
Someone else could have died if a curious student had picked up McGhee's gun, Vogel said.
The School Board is not required to accept Judge Bruce McKibben's recommendation, which is not expected for two months. But any action taken by the board could be appealed. The Florida Department of Education also is investigating and could revoke her teaching certificate.
McGhee, 57, a third-grade teacher who has been on unpaid suspension since the incident, was arrested for bringing the gun to school -- a violation of state law. But charges later were dropped.
Everyone agrees that McGhee, who has worked for the district since 1986, had an unblemished record before the incident. What's at issue is how she should be disciplined.
Barbara Nixon, Heathrow principal, and Beverly Perrault, director of elementary education, agreed McGhee should be fired.
"I would probably have a lot of parent calls asking for children to be removed from that class" if McGhee went back to teaching, Nixon said.
Friends and family argued that she is an excellent teacher, well-liked by students and parents, and should be returned to the classroom.
Matthew Haynes, McGhee's attorney, said Vogel's recommendation to terminate her is unfair because he did not fire another teacher who brought a gun to school about the same time. Jon Diesbourg, a second-grade teacher at Forest City Elementary, was suspended for 10 days after a BB gun was found on the roof of his station wagon. Diesbourg said he had used it to break up a pig fight at his rural Eustis home and forgot he had placed the gun on the roof.
McGhee, skittish after her home was burglarized, had the gun in her living room the day before because an unfamiliar plumber was in the house. She said she later put the gun on top of her purse, which was in a milk-crate cart of items she hauled back and forth to school each day. She had intended to put the gun inside the purse, she said, because she was going to go shopping later that evening.
She canceled the shopping trip, however, and the next day plopped her lunch in the cart on top of the gun and never noticed it. "I totally forgot I had not put it away," she said.
The gun and cell phone apparently fell out of the cart as McGhee wheeled it from her car to the school building.
I feel sorry for her, but it really is a pretty big screw up. If it was my kid, I would probably request my child be place in her class, instead of some left wing gun hating nut's class. Hope she keeps her job, but not likely.