Red flags missed in Florida teacher sex case

Bartow, Florida - WTSP was contacted for the first time by the Polk County school district about a Lakeland teacher who, according to police, admitted to having sex with her 17-year-old student.

Critical red flags may have been missed with Jennifer Fichter because the Polk County school superintendent said she falsified her employment application.

The 29-year-old teacher resigned from her language arts teaching job at Robinswood Middle School in Orlando in 2008 after records show she was accused of inappropriately communicating with a student there. Questions remain over how she landed a teaching job at Lakeland's Kathleen High School in the fall of 2011.

WTSP took that question directly to the woman in charge of Polk County Schools, superintendent Kathryn LeRoy, who said Fichter lied in several places on her application for employment. The Polk County School District provided 10 News a copy of Fichter's application in which she checked "no" to ever being the subject of an investigation, as well as other questions about her past that would have raised red flags.

LeRoy wasn't with the school district when Fichter applied.

Kathleen's principal at the time Fichter was hired was Cecil McClellan. McClellan and the school district's human resources department were supposed to check Fichter's references and background. Manny Rodriguez, a human resource investigator, told 10 News last week there were no records of any disciplinary action against her.

LeRoy also said Fichter passed all background and fingerprint checks. She also said her references checked out and she received positive feedback from past employers.

The principal who hired Fichter had his own issues when he was was accused of propositioning an undercover deputy during a prostitution bust. He later resigned.

We asked LeRoy about allegations a year into Fichter's employment with Polk County that she was Facebook messaging a 16-year-old student. LeRoy said, "[It] was not founded, which means that it was not sexual in nature. It was just communication with students and meeting some students."

Years earlier, the Orange County School District in Orlando said it contacted both law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families, but no charges were filed against Fichter there despite records showing she told another teacher that an 8th grade student made her melt and that she dreamed about him, was in love with him, and wanted to smash him -- meaning have sex.

Orange County suspended Fichter with pay, then without pay before she eventually resigned. But, again, Fichter mentioned none of that in her application with the Polk County School District. LeRoy said there's now a major change in procedures in the human resources department. But she admitted it's not in response to the Fichter's case and she said it's likely it wouldn't have made a difference since Fichter was a new young teacher.

She said many times it's normal for those types of employees to have a gap in their employment. LeRoy said effective immediately, "We're requiring three years of final evaluations, annual evaluations, if someone one wants to be hired in Polk County."

While Fichter has been suspended LeRoy, said she'll be terminated when Polk County School Board members meet on Monday night to vote on the matter.

Fichter remains in jail after her arrest a week ago for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old student she taught English to at Central Florida Aerospace Academy.


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