Lora Phillips Rankin was fired from the Okaloosa County School District on Feb. 12 after she was put on suspension during the investigation.
By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @firstname.lastname@example.org
FORT WALTON BEACH — A former Wright Elementary School teacher is appealing her termination after she was allegedly fired for abusing one of her students during class.
Lora Phillips Rankin was investigated by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) after a student accused her in October of hurting his arm, according to an offense report from the Sheriff’s Office.
The student said on Oct. 17 he was sitting at his desk when Phillips Rankin grabbed him near his elbows and made him stand, the Sheriff’s Office report said. There were marks on his arms consistent with being grabbed.
The Department of Children and Families had a medical examination conducted on the victim and the findings were positive for physical abuse. The Sheriff’s Office also confirmed in its investigation that Phillips Rankin did abuse the child.
The Sheriff’s Office sent a warrant application to the State Attorney’s Office for Phillips Rankin’s arrest, but it was denied on Jan. 1.
The report said the State Attorney’s Office denied the warrant because “there was case law that states a teacher stands in place of a parent when they are caring for children and, while there may be school policies against it, there is nothing criminal in what occurred in the Phillips Rankin case.”
This wasn’t the first time, however, Phillips Rankin was accused of child abuse. On Oct. 13, just five days before the reported case, another student accused her of a similar incident.
The victim told his mother that Phillips Rankin grabbed him by the upper forearm/elbow area. The child’s parent reported the complaint to the school, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.
The Okaloosa County School District’s Memo for Record said the Oct. 13 allegation was reported to the DCF Abuse Hotline, but the operator said it would not meet the criteria for an investigation. The operator did say, according to the memo, the call would be documented.
Investigator Angela Viramontes with DCF said, however, that there were no records showing the Oct. 13 incident was reported. Viramontes said because the incident was never reported, the alleged bruising on the second child’s arms was already healed by the time she went to investigate.
Phillips Rankin was fired from the Okaloosa County School District on Feb. 12 after she was put on suspension during the investigation. She will now appear before the School Board for an official appeal at a later date.
Okaloosa County School Board member Rodney Walker said Phillips Rankin is being supported in her appeal by the Okaloosa County Teacher’s Union.
The School Board hired an attorney on Feb. 26 to represent them for the appeal. Both parties, however, requested more time to prepare their cases.