A Duval County elementary school teacher has been arrested on child sex charges involving three victims, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Michael Worrell, 61, a fourth-grade teacher at Greenfield Elementary School on the Southside, was removed from the classroom on Aug. 22, according to the Duval County School District. He was arrested Tuesday on four counts of sexual battery on a child and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct on a child.
According to a police report, three child victims told investigators that Worrell sexually assaulted them in various local hotels. The assaults ranged from 2006 to 2012, according to the report. The victims ranged in ages from 9 to 13 at the time of the offenses, according to the report.
Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals will recommend suspension without pay pending termination for Worrell at the Oct. 2 School Board meeting.
Worrell was hired as a substitute teacher in 2003 and then full-time as a fourth grade teacher at S.P. Livingston in March 2006. He also taught at Paxon Middle School from 2009-11.
"The Duval Schools family is extremely concerned by the allegations against a teacher at Greenfield Elementary School," school district spokeswoman Jill Johnson said in a news release. "Based on new processes and enhanced communication between agencies, the district removed this teacher from the classroom immediately upon notification of an investigation into inappropriate behavior off campus. We will provide the outcome of the investigation to the Professional Practices Commission in Tallahassee for any potential action against his teaching certificate."
According to the jail database, Worrell is not eligible for bond. The Department of Children and Families is also investigating.
Worrell's wife, Alma Worrell, spoke about her husband's arrest Wednesday, saying it is hard on her family because they know the young people who accused her husband. She said they were at their home regularly, and she said her husband was just trying to help them out.
Alma said at least one of the three children is a girl her husband knew from one of the schools where he taught, and they've known each other for years. She said the girl even spent weeks at their home during the summer, and her husband would pick up her and her friend and buy them food when they needed it.
But Alma admits that things changed recently.
"I guess one day she need to come home, it should be 4 o'clock and he get mad 'cause she stayed til 5 o'clock," she said. "I think Mike, he get mad at them and then the girl, she went home and she got mad at him and everything came off."
Alma said while her husband is depressed about the accusations, he isn't taking the charges lightly.
"He said that he will fight. He will fight. He is innocent. That's all," she said.
This was Worrell's first year teaching at Greenfield, where many parents were alarmed and angry to learn of the accusations.
"It scares me. I have a kindergartener. It's really scary, actually," parent Teresa Elghali said.
"I definitely feel relieved, but I strongly feel that there should be more and more background checks before taking teachers into the school," parent Aparna Chalasani added.
According to Worrell's background and personnel file, in his last performance review in March 2011 at Paxon Middle, he was rated "satisfactory." He got an "unsatisfactory" rating for "shows sensitivity to students by maintaining a positive classroom environment." He got a "needs improvement" for "demonstrates professional behavior."
Also in the file is a glowing recommendation from his former Navy supervisor, who wrote of Worrell, "I can attest to the integrity and high moral character. ... Mike is a hard-working intelligent individual with solid ethical values ... being able to provide a boost for morale by honestly caring about the people he counseled and served."
Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson says even when a person is in a position of trust, such as a teacher, parents still have to keep their guard up.
"The best way to protect yourself as a parent and protecting your children is just to not trust anyone," Jefferson said. "You can't just close your eyes and give your kids away and think that they're in good hands because of the status of the individual."