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Teacher suspensions have parents split

3 teachers suspended with pay over altercation at Sebastian Middle School

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An 11-minute altercation has three St. Johns County middle school employees in hot water after school officials said they inappropriately restrained a student.

The incident happened in September at Sebastian Middle School. According to a police report, a student was being combative and refused to leave the cafeteria when asked by a school official. Two other school officials joined in and tried restraining the student to a wheelchair.

Since the incident, all three school officials have been suspended while an investigation is completed.

According to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office no criminal acts took place but the St. Johns County Schools Superintendent, Joseph G. Joyner, is still recommending that all three officials be fired. The employees disagree.

Tuesday night the school board heard from the public and those comments could help make the decision on whether to continue the suspension of the three employees.

"Losing them would be a true shame for Sebastian Middle School," former student Kelly Aponte said. "I remember the mile run and coach O'Shell and coach Branco were so impressed with my running and now that lives on with my running in high school. I want to thank them for encouraging that and kind of starting it."

Aponte was one of more than a dozen Sebastian Middle School parents, students and even concerned citizens that took to the podium in an effort to convince the school board not to terminate the three employees they say have made huge impacts in their lives, each one telling their personal story of how Dean Pete Sharman, coach Jarrod Branco and coach Robert O'Shell made an impact in their education.

"Robert O'Shell, I worked with him for 14 years. Another stellar individual, always positive, great sense of humor when you saw him in the hallway. He worked so well with the students," retired Sebastian Middle School teacher Betty King said.

Right now the three employees are suspended with pay after all three first tried restraining 13-year-old Jaden McDowell to a wheelchair and then physically removing the combative student into the hallway. The incident took place after the student refused to leave the cafeteria.

Parents like Laura Delvin also made their plea to the superintendent and told him her family would be making a big decision if the issue was not resolved soon.

"If this isn't resolved, me and my family have decided that we will take Callie out of Sebastian Middle School. I'll probably place her in a private school, or maybe a virtual homeschool. This is purely for the safety of our child," Delvin said.

Ultimately though, many feel the termination would send the wrong message to both students and teachers.

An attorney on the school board said this is a process and right now the teachers will remain suspended until they each have their hearings. No dates have been set yet.