HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The sheriff of Highlands County has a strong message for residents. On Tuesday Sheriff Susan Benton said people need to report suspected cases of child abuse, or anything that seems out of the ordinary, or they could face criminal consequences.
This comes in the wake of a scandal involving three Highlands teachers. The teachers are under investigation for sexting and porn-related cases.
It all began at Lake Placid Middle School last month when a picture of a student posing provocatively went viral among her classmates, forcing the principal to hold an emergency meeting with parents.
Then, a parent came forward to report Hill-Gustat Middle School teacher Stacy Hooks. Hooks was arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old student.
Soon after, a Sebring High School teacher, Amanda Roser-Cannady, resigned. On Tuesday the school board voted to put teacher Bridget Silva on paid administrative leave. Both teachers are accused of having inappropriate pictures of themselves or their students on their phones.
“Terrible,” said Barbara Walker, a retiree who worked for the school district for 45 years. “It is terrible.”
Walker said the sex scandals are an embarrassment.
“You know, that’s downhill now,” she said. “That’s bad.”
Sheriff Benton laid down the law Tuesday in front of the school board, teachers and a handful of others. She said if teachers and parents think something is wrong, they need to report it.
“Every one of us is responsible for reporting abuse or neglect,” Benton told the crowd
“I don’t care if the principal or the superintendent tells you not to do it; the law says you have to do it,” Highlands County Sheriff Chief Deputy Mark Schrader said.
“The moral correctness of what you’re supposed to be doing in educating children should come before your own personal selfishness,” Benton said.
The sheriff admits this will happen again. That’s why, right now, she believes focusing on reporting child abuse is a great first step.
“We are there to minimize the damage, the emotional trauma to a child and to stop the victimization,” Benton said.
Meanwhile, Walker, who essentially grew up in the school district, said she wants people to know this is not the norm. “We still have good teachers but we can’t put them all in the same bag,” she said.
The Highlands County superintendent, Wally Cox, said the district is going to craft a consistent plan for reporting abuse.
As for the three teachers, the criminal and school board investigations are far from over.
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