SARASOTA (WWSB) - Video has been released of the altercation between longtime Brookside Middle School teacher and athletic director John Russo and a 14-year-old student in February of 2018.
Between this video and an investigative report done by an outside counsel Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden is recommending the termination and dismissal of Russo.
“It’s unfortunate that the evidence contained in the report makes very clear that he should no longer be a teacher with us, he does not meet the standards, the professional standards to be a teacher for us,” said Bowden.
Although the battery charges against Russo had been dropped, he has been on paid administrative leave since the incident and he has people supporting him.We were able to catch up with Russo more than two months ago. He says that he was following protocol with the new safety measures at the school a day after the Parkland shooting, which included a no hoodie policy.
“When I encountered this individual on the stairs I explained to them that they needed to stay there, tell me who they were, and what they were doing," said Russo. "They refused to do that, refused to stay there, refused to tell me their name and instead threatened to punch me in the face.”
Russo says since the teen wasn’t complying that’s when the altercation escalated and he tells us the teen even punched the school principal three times when he approached the scene.
“I placed my hand on his forearm and said you’re not going anywhere at which point he took a swing at me I took my arms wrapped them around him,” said Russo.
As for the superintendent, he says the video of this altercation speaks for itself, as well as at least two other incidents including video capturing Russo cornering a student.
“There are actually four instances detailed in the report, three of them captured by video," said Bowden. "Although this is a difficult decision, after viewing the video I will tell you it was a very easy decision to come to the conclusion that Mr. Russo’s conduct was inappropriate.”
In addition to recommending the firing of Russo, there are additional recommendations including requiring training for all teachers and administrators regarding the law and school district protocol pertaining to the use of force, among other recommendations.
Russo now has 15 days to respond to the Superintendent’s recommendation to terminate him and request a hearing. The recommendation for his firing goes in front of the school board on May 21st.