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John Russo to Remain on Administrative Leave

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January 17, 2019 – John Russo, a social studies teacher and coach at Brookside Middle School, will remain on administrative leave pending the conclusion of the school district’s investigation into his behavior involving a student.

On February 15, 2018, Mr. Russo was involved in a physical altercation with a middle school student on campus at Brookside Middle School. Mr. Russo was immediately placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Last spring, the school district’s internal investigation was placed on hold pending a criminal investigation conducted by the Sarasota Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO).

On December 19, 2018, the SAO dismissed the criminal case after receiving confirmation Mr. Russo underwent a 6-hour Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training and performed 24 hours of community service. On January 11, 2019, the school district was notified by the SAO that the criminal case was officially closed. As part of that notification, the SAO submitted a memo that concluded Mr. Russo’s physical contact with the student victim was “unnecessary and inappropriate.” The memo also detailed prior acts of violence against students. The memo went on to further state “While our criminal case is constrained by legal precedent, administrative proceedings by the school and school board are not constrained.” Because of this memo and additional evidence presented to the school district, the investigation involving Mr. Russo will continue.

“As Superintendent, it is my responsibility to make certain our students receive the best education possible in a safe environment that assures their well-being,” noted Todd Bowden, superintendent of Sarasota County Schools. “We must put our students first, and after reviewing the State’s Attorney’s Office memo and additional evidence received by the school district, we will continue our investigation regarding Mr. Russo. Until the investigation is concluded, Mr. Russo will remain on administrative leave and will not be allowed to interact with students in the school district.

During the initial phase of the school district’s investigation, inconsistencies related to prior disciplinary actions taken by the school district regarding Mr. Russo were discovered. In addition to continuing an investigation about the incident involving Mr. Russo, the school district will also be reviewing protocols for employee discipline to ensure all employees are held accountable for their actions at all times and live up to the standards of being a Sarasota County Schools employee. Sarasota County Schools has retained employment law specialist, Jennifer Compton, with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, to continue the investigation of Mr. Russo and school district discipline protocols. Ms. Compton is the attorney who represented the City of Sarasota in the investigation of the City Clerk and served as a former attorney for Superintendent Todd Bowden. Ms. Compton no longer represents Dr. Bowden. Jeff Maultsby, chief operations officer and assistant superintendent with Sarasota County Schools, will serve as lead on the continued investigation and work with Ms. Compton, who will have full access to the school district to discover the facts and make recommendations regarding these incidents.

The State’s Attorney’s Office memo is attached to this statement in its entirety. 

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