• Special-needs teacher with history of complaints retires amid investigation

    By: Karla Ray

    Updated:

    ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - An Orange County teacher just retired while under investigation, which 9 Investigates learned was at least her 10th over the course of 13 years.

    Investigative reporter Karla Ray uncovered years of claims that the teacher, Rita Walters, was physically rough with special-needs students and berated them in front of other staff members.  In many of the cases, Walters received written directives, but kept her job each time.

    Her husband said she was out of town when 9 Investigates went to try to get her side of the story.

    “Oh, we're not talking about any of that.  She's not under investigation.  She's retired, so it's over,” he said.

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    Walters was pulled from her Deerwood Elementary School classroom in mid-November for reasons the district hasn’t yet disclosed, but records show in a separate incident in September, a teacher reported that Walters’ students, who use wheelchairs, were left alone for about 20 minutes.  Another teacher made a claim around the same time that Walters threw a plastic bag in the middle of the classroom containing dirty diapers.

    That September case was closed "unconfirmed" because the "teacher refused to write a statement in accordance with the union agreement," according to Walters’ employee relations file.

    “There was no proof of anything.  It was all just somebody who didn't like her, and that's what happens,” Walters’ husband said.

    9 Investigates found a history of complaints against Walters.  A portion of her 180-page employee relations file lists allegations of flicking a special-needs student with a finger, hitting another on a shoulder, and a third on the hand; claims deemed unconfirmed or unfounded after Walters declined to give statements at the advice of the teacher’s union.

    “It was all settled, and there was no proof of any of it.  She's never had anything proven, not once,” Walters’ husband said.

    Walters was forced to pay a fine to the state after one incident, in which a witness claimed she "aggressively pulled a special-needs student by the shoulders off a table and onto the floor in a forceful manner."  That incident allegedly occurred in 2014, and school leaders gave Walters a written reprimand, but she kept her job.

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    OCPS spokeswoman Wendy Roundtree provided this statement in response to our questions about Walters:

    "State law (s. 1012.33(1), Fl. Stat.) mandates that teachers such as Ms. Walters may only be terminated for just cause.  Sometimes, employees who have never committed misconduct before may commit misconduct that warrants their termination under this statute.

    "However, most of the time, employees will engage in misconduct which falls short of meeting the standard for termination under state law.

    "Many of the cases involving Ms. Walters were not confirmed for misconduct.

    "Other cases involving Ms. Walters did have confirmed misconduct. While the conduct alleged in the confirmed cases is not acceptable to OCPS, those confirmed acts of misconduct do not rise to the level of termination pursuant to state law.

    "Ms. Walters has resigned her employment as of December 14, 2018.

    "As for the latest allegations of misconduct against Ms. Walters, OCPS does not discuss personnel matters. However, as required by state law, the allegations of misconduct will be reported to the Florida Department of Education for investigation."

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