Brett Cunningham, a former elementary school teacher at Imagine School at Town Center in Palm Coast, was indicted in Oregon last week on charges of allegedly possessing and duplicating child pornography.
Cunningham had been a founding member of the faculty at Imagine School, was its Teacher of the Year, and in 2013 was named National Teacher of the Year in the entire Imagine charter school system, winning the honor out of 2,000 teachers. It was his last year there.
He resigned that year, moved to Northwest Oregon and worked as a substitute teacher in Multnomah County, Ore., at Orenco Elementary School. He was hired as a second grade teacher the following year, then taught fourth grade for a year, fifth grade for a year, and kindergarten in the last school year.
Orenco Elementary School Principal Allison Combs said in a statement that the school was notified of the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office’s investigation of Cunningham last May, when he was placed on administrative leave. After the school began the pre-termination process, Cunningham decided to resign, on Sept. 14, rather than be fired, according to Combs.
A grand jury indicted Cunningham, 40, on Sept. 21. He was charged with two counts of encouraging child sexual abuse in the first degree and eight counts of encouraging child sexual abuse in the second degree and arraigned by phone on Friday.
He is free on $80,000 bond.
The indictment lists alleged offenses taking place between April 13 and April 14 and on May 23. For example, on May 23, Cunningham allegedly “did unlawfully and knowingly develop and duplicate a visual recording of sexually explicit conduct involving a child while knowing and being aware of and consciously disregarding the fact that creation of the visual recording of sexually explicit conduct involved child abuse,” the first count of the indictment read.
“Obviously, we are devastated by this situation,” Combs said in her statement. “The safety and wellbeing of our students is our top priority, and we have zero tolerance for behaviors that could jeopardize students’ welfare.” Combs said the school district “was only given limited information and needed to allow time for the investigation and due process to occur. As soon as the District learned indictments were being issued, they began their own investigation and initiated the pre-termination process.”
According to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, the investigation started in April 2020 when the Oregon Department of Justice received a cybertip from an internet company that discovered one of its users possibly uploading images of child pornography. In May, the Oregon Department of Justice Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force executed a court-authorized search warrant and recovered electronic media that was then submitted for forensic evaluation.
Given Cunningham’s access to children, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is requesting public assistance with the investigation. Anyone with information should contact Oregon Department of Justice Special Agent Tyler McCourt at 503-934-1107.
Cunningham, a Maryland native, moved to Palm Coast in his mid-20s to be near his parents, starting work at Imagine in the school’s inaugural 2008-09 school year. A popular teacher with stage presence in and out of the classroom, he was also involved in numerous local theater productions. He did not respond to a message before this article initially published.