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Sarasota Monday, Apr. 22, 2019 4 months ago

Superintendent recommends dismissal of middle school teacher following investigation

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John Russo has been teaching with Sarasota County Schools since 1996.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden has recommended the dismissal of John Russo, a Brookside Middle School teacher, following allegations of inappropriate behavior toward a student and a subsequent investigation.

According to law enforcement records, Brookside Middle School administrators announced on Feb. 15, 2018 — the day after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — that students were not permitted to wear hooded sweatshirts or other hooded garments over their heads as a security precaution.

As classes were dismissed for the day, a police report states Russo approached a student to tell him to lower his hood. The student complied but put it back up moments later. According to records, Russo reportedly put the student "in a bear hug" before pushing him against a wall.

The incident was recorded on surveillance video and ended when Brookside Middle Principal Matthew Gruhl arrived.

According to an interdepartmental memorandum by the Sarasota Police Department, Russo has a record of prior acts of violence involving students:

"In 2017, [Russo] grabbed a student's backpack, pushed the child, and cornered him for not following his instructions," the memorandum states. "In 2016, [he] threatened to punch a student in the face after she accidentally struck him with a basketball at a practice after school."

Russo has been on paid leave from the district since February 2018. According to Sarasota County Schools, a permanent teacher will take his place in the upcoming 2019-2020 academic year.

“I believe the dismissal of John Russo is the right decision for the school district,” Bowden said. “He failed to live up to the standards of the teaching profession and failed to fulfill the expectations of our parents, who believe their children should be safe when they are at school and be inspired by teachers to do their best … It’s unfortunate that Mr. Russo did not live up to the standards expected of a teacher, and instead, violated several state laws and sections of the collective bargaining agreement that led to his dismissal.”

The Sarasota County School Board will review Bowden’s recommendation at their upcoming May 21 school board meeting.

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