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Hundley to ask EPC to Vacate Actions Taken Against his Certificate

PALMETTO – On Wednesday, the next step in the long and convoluted saga of former Lincoln Memorial Academy principal Eddie Hundley will take place in Orlando, when the 25-year educator goes before the Education Practices Commission of the State of Florida for the first time since the Quinton Peterson trial. Hundley’s attorney will be asking the commission to reopen his case and vacate actions taken against his educator certificate.

In a case of gross injustice that seems fantastical even by Florida standards, an administrative law judge stopped only one step short of the maximum penalty against Hundley, ostensibly for actions related to allegations that Peterson had sexual relations with a student. Peterson had, at one point, worked for Hundley at Lincoln Middle School, before it converted to a district charter school just ahead of the 2018/19 academic year.

Peterson was eventually arrested and charged with possession of child pornography when a police investigation found pictures of a girl on his laptop who was reportedly underage at the time they were taken. However, Peterson was not working for Hundley at the time that police say they discovered the pictures–he’d been moved from Lincoln Middle to a non-classroom district position when another allegation against him that police determined to be unsubstantiated was made.

The young lady, who was in college at the time of Peterson’s arrest, had never been a student at Lincoln Middle, Lincoln Memorial, or any other school that Hundley presided over. Peterson was not fired from Manatee Schools but was allowed to resign, and the district failed to notify the state of the pending criminal investigation, as required by Florida law.

As a result, Sarasota County Schools hired Peterson, first as a substitute, then as a full-time math teacher. He received a standardized reference from both Hundley and Darlene Proue (formerly assistant principal at Lincoln and now in an admin role with the district). Peterson was arrested while working for Sarasota County, and when the community asked how the district could have hired someone who was under criminal investigation, it looked to Manatee.

In the time since Peterson’s employment with Lincoln Middle, Hundley had led a successful effort to convert the school into a district charter, setting him at odds with both then-Superintendent Diana Greene and some of the Manatee School Board members who had expressed displeasure in the fact that the district stood to lose funding and infrastructure as a result. Hundley was seemingly scapegoated for giving the reference, even though no action was taken against Proue, who continues to work for the district, or Greene, whose administration failed to report the allegations of its employee to the state as prescribed by law. Greene has since left Manatee to run the much larger Duval County Schools.

Under Greene, Manatee County Schools filed a complaint with the state, which then sought a two-year suspension of Hundley’s educator certificate. Rather than negotiate a settlement–the most common course in such cases, usually resulting in no action being taken against the certificate–Hundley, unwilling to admit to any wrongdoing, went before an administrative law judge, confident that he could prevail.

However, the ALJ exceeded even the state’s request, suspending Hundley’s educator certificate for 5 years (the only consequence short of a permanent revocation), utterly unprecedented for what was alleged to be secondary involvement and much more than other educators have received for directly causing harm to students–harm that was not in question, as it was in Peterson's case (the alleged victim, now in her 20s, continues to maintain that she did not have sexual relations with Peterson and put the photos, one of which she said she doctored, on his laptop herself).

In late July, Peterson was found not guilty on one charge, while the other produced a hung jury, ending in a mistrial. The state attorney’s office surprised many when it announced that it would retry Peterson on the second charge. That trial is set to begin on November 15.

State law does not seem to require the principal of a charter school to have an educator certificate, however, which meant the penalty would have little impact on Hundley’s role at LMA. But the district used Hundley’s certificate being revoked as part of a three-pronged attack in which it used special emergency powers to retake the school, denying Hundley and LMA the due process rights that seemingly would have made a takeover impossible, given the highly dubious nature of each prong of their argument.

There is also the curious involvement of Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who initially sent a somewhat threatening letter to the district just ahead of its emergency takeover meeting, urging it to remove Hundley. Multiple LMA supporters then filed complaints with the state against Greene, who actually did know the current status of Peterson’s investigation when she allowed him to resign (thus not having to disclose to other district’s that he’d been terminated from a teaching position) and failed to notify the state, which would have resulted in the matter being entered into a database that districts use as a check on new hires.

When Hundley made a public records inquiry with the department of education via email as to the status of any investigation of Greene regarding those complaints, Randy Kosec Jr., Chief of the Office of Professional Practices Services, wrote back that he was still working on fulfilling the request "because it was handled through the Commissioner’s Office and not the Office of Professional Practices Services."

A letter from Corcoran to the district obtained by the Bradenton Times (click here to read in full), revealed that Corcoran told the district that "no disciplinary action will be taken against Superintendent Greene or the Manatee County School District by the Department due to the extended passage of time and the fact that recent events have resulted in more aggressive enforcement of reporting requirements than at the time of the Peterson allegations.“

The letter was riddled with misstatements of fact, including his assertion that "In May 2017, the Manatee County School District’s Office of Professional Standards opened a file on Quentin Peterson after he was taken from the campus of Lincoln Memorial Academy in handcuffs ...“

In actuality, Lincoln Memorial Academy did not exist in 2017, and Peterson has never been employed by the charter school. Peterson had also never been removed from Lincoln Middle School or any other school in handcuffs.

Corcoran admitted in his letter that Greene failed to report suspected child abuse within the statutorily required 30 days and that he chose to circumvent statute and take no action against Greene and the district, even though the result was FLDOE failing to flag Peterson’s certificate ahead of his hiring by Sarasota County.

Clearly, it was the district’s failures that resulted in Peterson getting hired, at least much more so than a reference form given by Hundley, who did not have nearly as much information as the district, since Peterson had long since been removed from his employ and moved on without being terminated.

Corcoran admitting in his letter that the district violated the statute, paired with the fact that he handled the complaints against Greene personally rather than having the commission review them and decided to take no action against either Greene or the district, would seemingly render it impossible to uphold the actions taken against Hundley. Yet, this is Florida, so nothing can be taken for granted.

At Wednesday's hearing, Hundley and his attorney will be seeking the following:

1. An order from the EPC which states, in no uncertain terms, that Hundley has a legal and/or constitutional right to hold a position with a private charter school that does not require him to have "direct contact with students."

2. An Order from the EPC stating that the Florida Department of Education does not have authority to determine, peremptorily, that he violated the Final Order, without an Order to Show Cause; and, furthermore, an Order which also states, in no uncertain terms, that the EPC has never entered any Order holding that Hundley ever violated the Final Order of May 13, 2021.

3. An order expressly defining, with descriptive details and examples, the phrase "direct contact with students.“

4. An order from the EPC stating that Hundley was "similarly-situated in all material respects“ to Assistant Principal Diane Proue and that, as such, the Equal Protection Clause requires that Respondent Hundley be entitled to hold a position that would permit him to have "direct contact with students.“

For more on the entire LMA saga, click the link below.

TBT Exclusive: The Lincoln Memorial Academy Saga