LAUREL HILL — An Okaloosa County English teacher is appealing her termination after an investigation confirmed she sat on a male student's lap while teaching a class.
Amanda Varnum, a former Laurel Hill School teacher, was investigated in late October after the school's principal contacted former Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith to report the allegations.
Several students told Smith during a district inquiry last Oct. 27 that Varnum sat on a student's lap during class time for months. One student said Varnum would sometimes move around while seated on the student. Another student said she joked about penis size with two of the male students, according to School District documents shared with the Daily News by a source not involved with the investigation.
Varnum will appeal her case to an arbitrator in May. The arbitrator will make the final ruling in her case. Varnum had the choice to appeal to the arbitrator or the School Board.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) were also told about the allegations in late October, according to the School District documents.
Michele Nicholson, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, said investigators found no evidence to suggest a romantic relationship or criminal violation. The incident was called in to the DCF on Oct. 24, but was not accepted, according to the district's investigative report.
While conducting her investigation at Laurel Hill, Smith was shown multiple students' photographs as proof of the allegations.
One photo shows Varnum sitting on the student's lap behind the teacher's podium. In another, which appears to be from the same day, Varnum is standing behind the podium with the same student straddling her.
Three other photos show similar scenarios. Smith referred to a total of nine photos in the report.
Varnum denied sitting on the student's lap. According to the district report, she said the students were angry with her over a disagreement about the location and funding of their senior trip.
As a defense against the photos, Varnum said in the report that she backed into the student. Varnum said she asked the student to move after the incident.
A student confirmed in a statement that Varnum asked the student to move after she sat on his lap. The student said in the statement that the seated student did not move.
"Ms. Varnum is playful, so student (redacted) probably did not take her seriously," the statement said.
Smith interviewed 10 students during the investigation, seven of whom provided written statements.
Some students said they saw Varnum sit on the student's lap every day, while others said they only saw her do it once. A few students said they never saw Varnum sit on her students.
According to one student, however, his male classmate had an erection after Varnum sat in his lap for the entire class period.
The student in question said he did sit behind his teacher often while she was standing at the podium. He said Varnum had sat in his lap one time for just a minute. He also admitted to taking a picture of her butt and sending it to boys on the basketball team.
The student said Varnum never displayed inappropriate behavior toward him, according to the report.
The report said the alleged victim's mother believed the allegations were blown out of proportion.
The investigation concluded that Varnum and the student were often in unprofessional and inappropriate close proximity to one another. It also confirmed Varnum did sit in the student's lap.
The Okaloosa County School Board fired Varnum on Nov. 13 at Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson's recommendation.
If the arbitrator rules in Varnum's favor in May, the district could be forced to pay her back pay and hire her back on with the district.
NOTE: There are two Okaloosa County School District employees named Amanda Varnum. The employee in question is not employed in the district at this time.