Eddie Hundley gave two job recommendations on behalf of someone who was under criminal investigation, and the principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy is now the target of a related inquiry.
A detective with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is investigating whether Hundley violated Florida Statute 837.06, which makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to give false, written statements with the goal of misleading a public servant. At the request of Bridget Ziegler, chair of the county school board, Sarasota Superintendent Todd Bowden filed the request for an investigation, according to a news release from the district.
The release also confirmed an ongoing investigation by the state, prompted by the district’s April 30 complaint to the Department of Education.
Despite the accusations, Hundley is backed by his own board of directors. Christine Dawson, chair of Lincoln Memorial’s board, released a statement less than 24 hours before Sarasota announced the new investigation.
The board’s statement said Hundley was careful to follow the correct procedures when his employee was first placed on a temporary assignment. That was followed by the employee’s official resignation on Sept. 12, 2017, and his arrest on a child pornography charge months later.
The former employee, Quentin Peterson, worked as a teacher at Sarasota’s Booker High School for several months before his arrest.
Reiterating comments made at Wednesday’s board meeting, Dawson’s statement said media reports on Hundley — the result of police reports, district records and statements from school and law enforcement officials — were sensational and inaccurate.
“It also smacks of racism and a tribe mentality,” the release states.
It seems Manatee’s former superintendent would disagree. On May 2, Diana Greene reprimanded Hundley for his “blatantly false” job recommendations. Hundley marked that his former employee was never disciplined, but the principal was forced to reprimand Peterson for the “physical contact” that allegedly took place between him and a student in 2017.
The School District of Manatee County would not comment on “allegations or insinuations” made in Lincoln Memorial’s news release, according to an email from district spokesman Mike Barber.
“Ultimately, the issues raised will be evaluated and addressed by outside agencies including law enforcement and the Florida Department of Education,” the email states.
Sheriff Rick Wells resigned from Lincoln Memorial’s board at Wednesday’s meeting. The board now includes:
- Dawson: a retired teacher and school administrator.
- Christopher Czai: a local attorney and co-founder of UnidosNow.
- Marie Byrd: director for the School of Education at the University of South Florida.
- Cornelle Maxfield: a community activist with more than 20 years experience in finance and project management.
- Walter “Mickey” Presha: the former chief executive officer of Manatee County Rural Health Services.
- James Ward: a U.S. Army veteran who specializes in information technology.
- Hundley: principal of the charter school, previously known as Lincoln Memorial Middle School.
“We confidently stand behind the staff as a long awaited, carefully prepared, and exciting opening of the school will take place this week with staff and then with our wonderful Manatee County students in August,” the release states.
Hundley defended himself at Wednesday’s board meeting. Peterson, a former Lincoln Memorial music teacher, was never fired from the district, and he was arrested months after receiving the job recommendations.
The most recent investigation did not involve a Lincoln Memorial student, and Peterson left the school to work on a temporary assignment before his resignation, Hundley said, explaining why he was unaware of the impending legal trouble.
Before Peterson resigned and left for a job in Sarasota, it seems Hundley was eager for his prized employee to return.
“This young man has not been arrested and has been cleared twice by CPS in this matter,” Hundley wrote in an email to district administrators in July 2017. “Can we revisit the current conditions so as to limit damage to our employee? I believe the closing of the case by CPS should provide adequate justification for his return to work.”
His email prompted a response from Mitchell Teitelbaum, the Manatee school district’s attorney. Though Child Protective Services closed its investigation, Palmetto investigators were still working on the case, his email said.
Authorities allegedly found an inappropriate image on the electronics they seized from Peterson, which involved him and a 16-year-old girl who was not part of the original investigation.
Hundley knew about the image, and he knew police were pushing for criminal charges, said Chief Scott Tyler, of the Palmetto Police Department.
The Lincoln Memorial principal went on to recommend Peterson for two jobs. The first recommendation came 10 days after Peterson’s official resignation, and the second was made on Feb. 23, about two months before Sarasota police arrested him at Booker High School.
Peterson started in Sarasota County as a substitute teacher before he became a full-time math instructor, working in the district for about six months all together.
Hundley recently said he felt like a scapegoat for other people’s mistakes. Bowden, Sarasota’s superintendent, has said the district failed to check a state system for any pending investigations against Peterson.
On Wednesday, to the agreement of his board members, Hundley said district administrators tried to stifle the school’s enrollment numbers, and that reporters “said and printed what needed to sell papers.”
“People were being made to believe we wouldn’t open,” he said. “We had a board member suggesting we wouldn’t have the money to open. We had the district calling people and telling them that we were private, or that they had to go to Buffalo Creek.”
He was likely referring to Scott Hopes, the chair of Manatee’s school board. He cast the only dissenting vote during the approval of Lincoln Memorial’s charter application on Aug. 23, 2017, citing his concerns about a “very poor” budget proposal.
On Monday, Hopes said it was “abhorrent” that Hundley tried to bring back a teacher that was under investigation by Palmetto police, and to then recommend Peterson for two jobs after he resigned. The board chair went on to call the news release “baseless,” adding that board members were basing their statement on conjecture rather than official documents.
“I’m not just offended by their press release, I’m astounded they would even take that position,” he said. “I can only assume they’re basing their perspective on what the principal told them.”
The school district is graded on the success of every school, whether it be a traditional campus or a charter school, and Hopes said it would be senseless to hinder a school or its students.
Hundley’s board members recently praised him for the school’s stable finances and steady enrollment. More than 460 students are enrolled at Lincoln Memorial for the 2018-2019 school year, according to Wednesday’s meeting.
The philosophy of Lincoln Memorial is “Do the right thing, the right way, right now!”
Its conversion to a charter school will allow for more flexibility in its curriculum, which is structured around municipal responsibility, career exposure and college exploration, according to the school website.
Becoming a charter school was no easy task, Hundley said, citing what he sees as backlash from district administrators and area reporters.
“I would prefer to have done this in an intimate setting, but because we’re a board I have to do it publicly, and therefore the media is allowed to be present,” he said on Wednesday.