St. Pete teacher arrested for lewd and lascivious molestation

Joseph Zavalnak (Courtesy St. Petersburg Police Department)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A Pinellas County teacher is accused of molesting three girls.

Meadowlawn Middle School teacher, Joseph Zavalnak, was arrested for lewd and lascivious molestation Wednesday morning.

The St. Petersburg Police Department said Joseph Zavalnak, 41, is facing five counts of lewd and lascivious molestation involving three victims. The victims, all girls, were over the age of 12, but under the age of 18.

Police said the incidents occurred at the end of 2016 and the investigation led to another incident in 2013.

“We had two victims right off the bat that we knew were involved and then through the course of that investigation, we found out about a possible third victim from 2013,” said Yolanda Fernandez, with the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Parents of students at the school couldn’t believe it.

“It’s girls under 16-years-old, you know, that’s disgusting,” said parent Chris Keels.

Chris and Hillary Keels’s son played on the school’s basketball team that Zavalnak coached.

Hillary Keels said Zavalnak also coached the girls team the year before.

“Come to find out, there were rumors about him touching some of the girls at the school,” said Hillary Keels. “There you go, there you have it and I told my son and my husband, I knew something was not right with that man. I’m glad he’s gone because that’s horrible.”

Investigators say a parent of one of the victims came forth to report the allegations late last year. Zavalnak is accused of inappropriately touching them.

“Nasty, he’s needs to be under the jail. Don’t let him out,” said Hillary Keels.

The Pinellas County School District says Zavalnak taught science at Meadowlawn, and had been at the school since 2009. They released this statement:

As soon as information related to an incident involving Meadowlawn Middle School teacher Joseph Zavalnak was brought to the school’s attention, it was investigated with the assistance of the St. Petersburg Police Department. It was determined by Pinellas County Schools and law enforcement to move Mr. Zavalnak to a non-student worksite in January, as St. Petersburg Police continued their investigation. He remained at the non-student worksite up until his arrest. His contract is being non-renewed by the district.”

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