On Friday afternoon, at 3:30 p.m., Franklin County Superintendent Steve Lanier made two telephone calls after he reviewed a report suggesting suspicious behavior by a young assistant coach and substitute teacher.
He called the sheriff’s office and reported the matter, and he called Athletic Director Dirk Strunk and asked him to inform Troy “Jayden” Larkin, an assistant coach with the boys varsity soccer and middle school baseball teams, that he was being immediately removed of all coaching duties, to leave campus and not to associate with students at the school.
By the next morning, following an intensive review of the evidence by law enforcement, including statements from at least three students, Larkin, a 2016 graduate of Franklin County High School, was arrested by deputies on charges of battery, distributing obscene material to a minor, and providing liquor to person under age 21.
He was placed on a $5,500 bond and later released.
Lanier said the students connected with the alleged crime ranged in age from 14 to 18. He said students had spoken of it to a paraprofessional, who then relayed it to school administrators.
The investigators found Larkin had provided alcohol, as well as suggestive photographs to female students, and that one said he had "unsolicited, rubbed her back in a flirtatious manner."
Neither the superintendent nor Sheriff A.J. Smith offered further details on what transpired between Larkin and the students. Lanier said Larkin had admitted to law enforcement details found in the school’s report.
Smith posted a summary of the arrest on his Facebook page Sunday, and offered video comments in praise of the work done by Sgt. Baron Cortopassi, Capt. Brad Segree, Major Dwayne Coulter and others in securing the arrest by the next morning.
“Everybody dropped what they were doing and got on it. They worked into the early morning hours,” Smith said. “A search warrant had to be obtained and other evidence sorted through. It was a great combined effort.”
He said school officials had worked quickly, together with law enforcement, in handling the case.
“I’m proud of what we’re doing to protect our children in this community,” Smith said. “We see all the crazy things that are going on around the country, and we’re able to provide a high level of protection and security and comfort to the citizens of this community as well as the parents as well as the children who go to our schools.”
In his video, the sheriff stressed his department has a victim advocate on staff, and the schools have a psychologist as well as other counselors. “There are loads and loads of resources,” he said, “If you know of any kind of crime being committed against a child, know that we will act quickly and swiftly to bring whoever’s doing that to justice.”
Because he is a substitute teacher, and a community member being paid a supplemental for coaching., Larkin is not covered by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, and so has no grounds upon which he can delay or challenge his complete suspension from any role at the school.
Lanier said he understands the concerns parents may have about trusting adults when news like this comes out. “As a parent myself, I would not be worried,” he said. “We’re not going to tolerate that in any capacity.”
He said all hires are fingerprinted and undergo a background check. “My responsibility it to hire qualified people, and when they are hired, I hope they obey the laws. The kids look up to their coaches.”
Teacher fired in November for 'inappropriate' behavior
The trouble Larkin is in marks the second incident since November, when Lanier began serving as superintendent, in which a school employee apparently crossed the line when it came to contact with students.
While the current case involves an alleged crime, the matter of Franklin County School eighth and ninth grade math teacher Jonathan Hart was limited to being fired from his job.
Lanier had inherited the case from his predecessor, Traci Moses, who had recommended the firing in October.
At his first school board meeting in mid-November, Lanier upheld Moses’ recommendation for suspension without pay, and anticipated Hart might file a grievance under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the Franklin County Teachers Association.
As it turned out, Hart let the matter drop, and left the district.
According to Moses’ Oct. 29 notice of charge of misconduct in office, and her petition for Hart’s dismissal for “just cause,” Hart was a regular, full-time instructor under an annual contract beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
The petition alleged that or about Sept. 22, 2020, Hart had a conversation with a student in which he inquired about the personal lives of both she and a friend “in a fashion that made the student uncomfortable.
“Mr. Hart asked the student why she and her friends were not at a local restaurant the past weekend, where Mr. Hart had apparently seen them on prior occasions,” read the petition. “(He) then asked the student about the arrest of her friend's father. (He) pulled up additional information about the arrest, including the father's arrest record and mugshot, on his district-assigned computer and discussed the details with the student.
“(He) asked the student for her address and the address of her friend (and) searched for the addresses on Google maps, then told the student that she and her friend were ‘hood rats’ because they lived in what he considered to be a bad neighborhood,” read Yoder’s petition. “The student reported that Mr. Hart asks her about her personal life multiple times per week and that she feels very uncomfortable around Mr. Hart.
“A student has reported that Mr. Hart has tried multiple times to hit her on her back side with his yard stick during class changes,” it read. “Former Franklin County School Assistant Principal Jaime Copley previously counseled Mr. Hart that Franklin County School does not condone the use of physical interaction with students unless it is vital for the student's safety.”
The petition also said Hart “has inappropriately obtained lunches from the cafeteria by asking students who are entitled to a free school lunch but not eating lunch that day to give him their lunch for the day.”
In Hart’s case, his actions were determined to violate Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida, as well as school board policy “which prohibit intentionally exposing a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement (and) inappropriately associating with students in a manner which may give the appearance of impropriety.
“Mr. Hart's conduct has greatly and irreparably reduced his effectiveness as a teacher in the eyes of students, parents, and the educational community,” the dismissal concluded.
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Coach charged with sexting, sharing booze, with students