Target 8: Court testimony not included in sexually charged Hillsborough teacher texts investigation

PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — New information is raising questions about the thoroughness of an investigation by the School District of Hillsborough County into sexually explicit teacher texting.

Court testimony from one of the teachers involved suggests the raunchy behavior not only occurred on personal time, but spilled over into school hours.

Plant City High School teacher Kelley Ware was granted two temporary restraining orders to keep fellow teacher Michael Paul and her department head Julia McConnell away from her while the school district investigated her claims of sexual harassment.

The district’s investigation concluded sexually charged texts written by Mr. Paul and Ms. McConnell about Ms. Ware did not take place on school time or property.  Superintendent Jeff Eakins sees no need to hold anyone accountable.

“A lot of this happened outside of the school day, you know, away from school,” said Mr. Eakins.

But, Julia McConnell’s own words raise questions about the thoroughness of Hillsborough’s investigation.

At a hearing for a permanent injunction, Ms. Ware’s lawyer questioned Ms. McConnell about a December text she sent to Mr. Paul, referencing a shot he got of Ms. Ware’s back side. Ms. McConnell testified the raunchy texts and behavior spilled over to school time.

“If I remember correctly, that is when they were down back at the land lab working, and um, she bent over and her butt crack was hanging out at school,” Ms. McConnell told the court.

That piece of information isn’t in the district’s report.  Investigators either missed or disregarded her court testimony.

“There was a couple of times at work when she bent over and either her a– was hanging out, or her stomach was hanging out, or whatever so, so that’s probably about one of the times at work when she was hanging out,” Ms. McConnell went on to say.

“Why was this lady the subject of such uncomplimentary statements?” asked Judge Robert

“I mean, there’s no reason, just being ugly,” Ms. McConnell told the judge.

Ms. McConnell’s husband discovered the texts on his wife’s phone and sent them to Ms. Ware.

“It was everything from them talking about doing things to me sexually,” explained Ms. Ware.

Hundreds of messages referencing Ms. Ware’s anatomy, powdered sugar, sex, cows, gallons of lube, artificial insemination, long plastic gloves and more were exchanged.

This texting scandal began when a parent took a photo of Ms. Ware bending over, her back side slightly exposed.  It was disseminated to teachers who degraded Ms. Ware.  It ended with an investigation that did not interview all employees involved, nor did it take into account the testimony of Ms. McConnell and Mr. Paul.

After the investigation concluded, Ms. Ware was notified her position at Plant City High School was being eliminated.

Mr. Eakins says the job elimination has nothing to do with the investigation.

“I do want them to look at this and I do want them to say ‘you know what, maybe we made a mistake here,'” said Ms. Ware.

In his letter to Kelley Ware, Johnny Bush, General Manager of Professional Standards, wrote the case is officially closed.  He ended the letter stating, “It is the District’s expectations that all employees will conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times.”

If you have something that you think should be investigated call our Target 8 Helpline at 1 800 338-0808 or email Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

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