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Another Foreign Exchange Teacher Arrested, Parents Concerned About Cultural Differences

FLORIDA – Due to the shortage of qualified teachers in Florida, several school districts have opted to hire non-citizen foreign exchange teachers to fill the vacancies, but in light of recent arrests, some parents are starting to voice concerns over the safety of their children in public schools.

The U.S. State Department's J1 visa program authorizes teachers from around the world to work in the United States for up to 5 years. Florida's Department of Education sanctions teachers from Spain and France but private companies like TPG Cultural Exchange, a South Carolina-based company, offer school districts teachers from less developed countries, like Ghana, Uganda, India, the Philippines, and Jamaica. TPG has placed around 500 teachers from these regions into school districts around Florida, including approximately 65 in Hernando County and about 49 in Pasco County.

School district officials praise the program because it introduces students to different cultures and removes the burden of paying health insurance, FICA, and retirement contributions from local taxpayers.

Over the last several months, R News has received numerous complaints from parents who say their children have witnessed or been victims of abusive and violent behavior by TPG teachers. Last September, Kris Evans contacted R News after her son, a first grade student at Winding Waters K-8 was battered by a Jamaican TPG teacher. The now-former teacher, Kimberle McFarlane grabbed her son's arm so hard that it left a large hand-shaped bruise on his arm. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office was notified about the incident, but they refused to launch a criminal investigation. I asked Sheriff Al Nienhuis why the case was ignored, but he declined to comment. A representative for TPG told R News that McFarlane resigned because she "No longer felt safe." WWK8 Principal Cari O'Rourke defended McFarlane and said, "They do things differently in other countries." She then went on to chastise R News for reporting on the incident and defaming her teachers.

In response to the WWK8 article, R News received numerous complaints from parents who claimed their child was victimized by a Jamaican TPG teacher in the classroom. Brittany Trammel says her daughter, a fourth grader at WWK8 witnessed a Jamaican TPG teacher screaming at students, crumpling papers out of anger, slamming her fist on the desk, and even hitting students. She says Principal O'Rourke gave her the same excuse, that "they do things differently in their countries." R News spoke to several parents who say school officials dismissed their complaints and the Sheriff's Office refused to launch criminal investigations.

On Thursday, R News reported that now-former Brooksville Elementary teacher Latisha Greenland, a Jamaican TPG teacher, had been arrested on Child Neglect charges. According to an arrest affidavit, Greenland had left her young children alone while she went shopping for nearly 5 hours. TPG says Greenland will be forced to return to Jamaica once her charges have been resolved and will "never be allowed to teach in the U.S. again." Greenland remains behind bars in the Hernando County Jail.

Yesterday, R News learned that another Jamaican TPG teacher had been arrested on February 16th in Pasco County for felony child abuse. According to an arrest affidavit, 30-year-old Khandice Sasha Pownall, a teacher at Fivay High School in Hudson, grabbed a 14-year-old student by his hoodie and yanked him to the floor. She then stood over the victim and held onto his hoodie until he yanked it away. Pownall denied the allegations, but a video taken by a fellow classmate substantiated the victim's claims. Pownall was taken into custody and charged with Child Abuse.

R News contacted TPG and school officials to try and find out what is being done to address the growing number of complaints and arrests involving Jamaican TPG teachers. TPG replied, "We have been actively working with Hernando schools to strengthen the training setup and improve the pre-arrival training." TPG went on to explain, "There isn't an 'obvious disconnect,' as we have scores of teachers who are doing amazing things in Hernando County in full compliance with the district's policies. Isolated incidences do not justify broad generalizations. We urge you to research the daily successes that TPG teachers and Hernando teachers have every day. They raise cultural awareness for their students, add diversity to faculty, and serve as qualified, certified educators for the district."

Despite numerous requests for comment from Hernando County Superintendent John Stratton and all school board members, R News did not receive a single response regarding issues with the TPG program.

We reached out to Pasco County school officials, late Friday, and a spokesperson said we should receive a response by Monday regarding the issues.

Despite repeated requests, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office remains obstinately silent on their decision not to initiate criminal investigations into abuse allegations against non-citizen teachers, contrasting sharply with their track record of arresting numerous U.S. citizen teachers on various charges in recent years.

The exact number of complaints is unknown because school officials have not responded to requests for that information.

R News will continue to report on any new developments regarding the TPG program.

 

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