Just one day after a Buddy Taylor Middle School special education teacher was fired for using excessive force with a student, an 8-year-old special education boy at Wadsworth Elementary was involved in an incident that led to an accusation that teacher and former Matanzas High School football coach Robert Ripley used excessive force against him.
The incident took place on Feb. 19 and was captured on two surveillance cameras at the school. The videos have not been made public, as they are currently part of ongoing investigations by the school district and the Department of Children and Families, and a charging affidavit is pending review by the State Attorney’s Office.
But a Flagler County Sheriff’s sergeant’s description of the videos points to two instances of Ripley pushing the student, in one case pushing him hard enough that the student fell. And School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin, who reviewed the videos, said the sergeant’s descriptions were accurate, and the two instances of pushing are not permissible by teachers. She did not elaborate further, pending the resolution of the investigation.
Ripley, a district employee since 2004, is on paid administrative leave meanwhile. His statement regarding the incident has not yet been turned into human resources, though Ripley has met with the human resources director.
In 2016, Ripley was the subject of a written reprimand by then-Principal Earl Johnson “for poor professional judgment in coaching, teaching and motivating student athletes on the football team at Matanzas High School,” where Ripley was the head football coach. “The use of chastising, unfavorable, and intimidating comments is unnecessary and unacceptable behavior towards student/athletes in Flagler Schools,” Johnson wrote him. (Johnson is currently executive director of leadership development in the district, and a candidate for superintendent.)
Ripley and the child’s mother were both contacted by phone. Neither returned a call before the story initially published.
Ripley started teaching at Indian Trails Middle School in 2004, then taught at Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas before landing at Wadsworth.
Regarding the Wadsworth incident last month, Sgt. Chris Ragazzo, who holds supervisory authority in the sheriff’s 13-member corps of school resource deputies, met with the student’s parents and reviewed the videos. Ragazzo reports that the couple’s son returned home on Feb. 19 to tell his mother that Ripley had pushed him. The boy’s father said his knees were “scraped and bruised” during the incident.
According to the description of the video footage from the hallway “CAM7” in the charging affidavit, Ripley is walking down the hallway and approaches the boy, who is on the floor with another staffer nearby. A couple of minutes later the boy gets up and walks with Ripley. (The videos have no sound.) As they approach a hallway, the boy attempts to veer away, and when Ripley tries to redirect him, the boy drops to the ground. Ripley picks him up “and carries him away without further incident,” the affidavit states. It does not describe how he picked him up.
The second video starts a minute later in the “Beach” room that Ripley and the student have entered. “This part of the school is where trained teachers and staff work with students who display emotional or behavioral issues as they cannot be in classrooms with other students,” the affidavit states.
Gavin described it as a large room with doors to three different rooms, some of them used for occupational therapy, some used for physical therapy. The space “can be used for deescalation, it can be used for reflection,” Gavin said.
At that point the student “immediately flails his arms and attempts to get away and get past Mr. Ripley,” the affidavit states. “At this time Mr. Ripley pushes [the boy] back into the room; [the boy] falls backward to the ground [on to] his buttocks, then on his back. Mr. Ripley walks out of the video frame and it appears that he goes out of the room. [The boy] then gets up and approaches the door, when Mr. Ripley enters again and tries to get [the boy] into another room within, which is referred to as a reflection room. It seems [the boy] refuses to go into this room and becomes defiant with Mr. Ripley for several minutes, following him around, kicking at Mr. Ripley as he tries to get him inside the room. Mr. Ripley is seen with his school radio in hand during this time, but due to not having audio what is said is unknown.”
Ripley and the boy had first entered the room at the 12:01 mark. At 12:06, the boy “kicks higher” at Ripley, who “grabs his foot, then his hand,” according to the affidavit. “It appears that he grabs his hand at the same time to prevent him from falling backwards.” The boy continues to be defiant “for several minutes.”
At the 12:09 mark, “Ripley is observed picking [the boy] up and puts him into the reflection room in what appears to be a pushing motion.” This would be the second instance of the sort of pushing that Gavin had said is impermissible. The boy exits the reflection room and continues his defiance as another teacher, William Tuttle, briefly walks in and back out. The boy then takes his clothing off, including his pants. At the 12:18 mark Assistant Principal Fred Terry walks in “and appears to assist with the situation.” The boy continues to be defiant but without being physical toward Terry. Thirty minutes in the deputy reported no further altercations, and David Bossardet, the district’s risk manager, said there were no further incidents of concern.
At that point the affidavit signals a disconnect between the way the deputy interpreted “disability” and the way the parent of an ESE student–or the school district–define disability, as those may not necessarily or exclusively be physical disabilities. The boy’s parents had inquired about pressing a charge of battery on a disabled person. The deputy inquired what sort of disability she was referring to, “as per the video I watched [the boy] was fully mobile.” The parent said the disability was documented with the district and would provide it. (Gavin said she had not reviewed the student’s Individual Education Plan, or IEP, and so could not specify the disability, either.)
The parent did not eventually provide it to the deputy, the charging affidavit states, and would later tell a deputy that she had provided all she would, saying “we have everything we need to arrest him.”
Terry in his statement says he assisted Ripley and saw the boy’s defiance but did not witness the pushing. Another special needs employee, Steven Nocero, said he saw the boy’s defiance and heard him use profanities and kick at Ripley, but he did not see Ripley push him. (Ripley appeared alone with the student in both descriptions of the video footage.)
The charge filed by the sheriff’s office is simple battery, a first-degree misdemeanor. It is up to the State Attorney’s Office to ratify and file the charge in court. The State Attorney’s Office has the authority both to drop the charge or to upgrade it to something more serious–such as battery on a disabled person, which would make it a third-degree felony.
Aside from the incident at Matanzas in 2016, Ripley’s personnel file points to a steady, well regarded and generally well-evaluated employee over the years, though he started on the more middling than exceptional side: his 2007 evaluation had him at the “satisfactory” level throughout. But he jumped to “very effective” the next year, remaining there year after year. “Mr. Ripley is an integral part of our school culture,” an evaluation concluded in 2011. “We are fortunate to have him here at FPC. He has a great rapport with our students and cares deeply about Flagler Palm Coast High School.” His more recent evaluations were more on the “effective” than the “highly effective” side.
In August 2016, he was the subject of a formal complaint by a parent submitted to then-Superintendent Jacob Oliva following the way he’d insulted a student on the football team he coached. The student had been so shaken that day that he wasn’t able to drive himself home, and subsequently had a panic attack before an away game. Ripley conceded that it had not been his intention to be insulting and admitted it was necessary to address his players and hold himself to a higher standard. The personnel file does not show any evidence of what Johnson, the principal who wrote Ripley the letter of reprimand, refers to as “a thorough investigation,” nor does it include Ripley’s statement.
“This type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Johnson wrote him. “You are formally being warned to bring to your attention the severity of this situation. Failure to correct this behavior and/or further violation of Flagler County School District policy will result in additional disciplinary action up to and including discharge.”
On Feb. 18, the district fired Jeffrey Rocco Paffumi, a teacher who’s survived several incidents that required disciplinary intervention by the district, including reprimands and mandatory anger-management counseling, before an incident in January ended his local career: he’d physically picked up a student out of his seat and pushed him into the hallway at Buddy Taylor Middle School.
The two incidents in quick succession have caught the attention of the Exceptional Student Education Parent Advisory Committee, which has been vocal through the district’s selection of a new superintendent, a decision the school board will make next Tuesday.
“We desperately need a leader who is willing to acknowledge and take strong action to fix the ugly things hiding in Flagler County Schools, particularly in ESE,” Kristi Furnari, a member of the EPAC group, wrote school board members this week. “It has come to light that there was yet another student with a disability abused, this time at Wadsworth Elementary. Why does this keep happening? How many incidents like this happen go unreported because the children can’t speak up for themselves?” She added: “We need a leader who will allow stakeholders to come forward to report problems without fear of retribution. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this from people. It is shameful.”
If some of these parents would actually be ‘parents’, then we could eliminate more than half of these issues. It astounds me the lack of parenting in today’s society, but they sure come out of the woodwork when the opportunity for a lawsuit arises.
ESE students needs should be in the fore-front. However, kicking/swearing/biting should not be tolerated by any student. Why so long to get another adult on the scene? Does the student act this way at home? Way too many questions to try this in the court of popular opinion.
It seems like the way of doing things in flagler county is just let the sports coaches handle ese. They should have more qualified people in these positions, someone who can help compassionately guide a child with special needs without resorting to testosterone fueled reactionary incidents.
Crystal Jackson says
I’m his mother and once you watch the video you will see my son didn’t do any of those things at all other then kicking at Ripley at the end after a 45 minute video of him hurting him.
Let him or her who has not taught Special Ed cast the first stone.
Kristi Furnari says
After reading this I have serious concerns about this “reflection room”.
Why was the child so upset that he was being taken to this room?
How many times has he been “put” in this room alone against his will?
I would fight like hell too.
[email protected] says
That is exactly what happen. He was medicated on a empty stomach and his stomach was hurting is why all this started. As soon as the video is public everyone will see and the man didn’t call for anyone until the end of the video when I called my son’s teacher.
Crystal Jackson says
My son is Autistic and has medical issues and this is not what happened at all and the video will show what happened. My son is on social security disability since he was three and still is and I have his IEP from the school if anyone would like to see it. This man man handled and hurt my son. The school resource deputy is trying to cover this up because they made the statement that this situation is going to make them look bad since this is there first year into the contract. My son is even medicated at school and the school does have the correct documentation that is why he was transferred to this program from RYMFIRE.
Teach your son respect.. Autistic children can be taught right from wrong.. It starts at home… You send your kids to school so that you can have a break.. Home school him if discipline is not something you agree with or support.
Crystal Jackson says
Watch the video and I do teach my son respect. I work for a living just like everyone else I don’t send my kid to school for a break. I pay my taxes like the rest of the county so my son can attend school.
I am truly sorry this happened to your child. Nobody has the right to put their hands on any child. This grown man is a hell of a lot bigger and he should lose his job just like the other teacher. You do not need to prove yourself to anyone this man was in the wrong. I hope you and your son are doing better I never ever have to experience this again. If it were me I’d probably be sitting in jail right now best wishes to you
one day soon parents are going to complain that “where are all the good teachers”? answer is forced out or they don’t need this crap from kids who have no respect.
Crystal Jackson says
Thank you so much the instructor was suspended by his supervisor before I could even say anything. All she kept saying to me is what your son is saying has merit and at this point she was the only one who watched the video.
Takes a real man to push around an 8 year old special Ed child. Fire him before he hurts another child!!!!!
Crystal Jackson says
I will be so glad when the video is public because it will she the torment my son went through.
Parents have become lazy says
For the question of why does this keep happening the answer is quite complex and imvolves several factors and reasons. First being parents are not being parents. A wide spread lack of parents doing their job to raise their children is creating children to misbehave, not learn right from wrong, have no respect and when anything happens excuses are made both for the student and parent. Next is the poorly grossly overdiagnoses of disabilities, most of the kids wouldnt actually have a disability or labeled with a disability because the only disability they have is the lack of a parent. Too many are diagnosed with ADHD, “on the spectrum for Autism”, learning diabilities etc because the parents in the home are not actively parenting and lazy, allowing their kids to do whatever they want, not giving consequences for their behavior, not making them accountable yet having ready made excuses further promoting the issues. Too many parents trying to hard to be the “friend” the “better liked parent”, well in case those supposed parents dont seem to understand nor comprehend there is no award for being the friend or better liked and at the end the only award will be the fines or the jail time when they break the law or the law has to step in and teach your child and the cost to continue supporting that child when they turn of age and were never taught to do so for themself. For children with actual special needs or issues it has to be quite the slap in the face to them and their parents that tirelessly fight for them to have better when lil joe blow can just be a poorly raised child that is disruptive in every aspect because he lacks an actual parent and he and his lack of parent can have him misdiagnosed so he has an excuse. Kinda makes disabilities questionable and that really is disgusting however that is what it has come to thank to Drs that are too quick to form a diagnosis and parents not doing their job and seeking an excuse. In order to diagnose properly home evaluations should take place often and regularly before the diagnosis given therefore would save a lot of time and money all around because the Dr or professional can determine whether it is just the parents neglect/abuse at home vs an actual disability. Lastly maybe the attorney for the school since she has such an opinion on how unruly children should be handled should partake physically and spend time doing so, then maybe she would have a better, more understanding, educated opinion on how the educators should actually handle the situations. Also has it occurred to the School Board that they havent been very supportive of the educators or teachers, they arent experiencing what they are and the stress and constant abuse and disrespect from these kids yet they sit on their board making all the rules and giving all the judgement and opinion. All the days that school isnt in session are they meeting with every single one of the educators and staff discussing the issues, hearing first hand the issues and taking time to figure out what can be done to correct anything? Are they seeing what goes on in any of the students homes to be qualified to give an IEP? What just because they have a piece of paper from a Dr that automatically qualifies right, wrong. They arent getting the full picture and yet think they know how to handle it. When the educator isnt getting support and constantly being treated like crap of course they are gonna snap, of course they are gonna have an issue. They should be held to a higher standard, yes, however lets not forget they are human and not one damn person in this county can say they wouldnt snap at some point. So until home evals are actually done, misdiagnoses arent just handed out like Tic Tacs and parents start being parents expect the issues to continue and to get worse because its too hard to be proactive, put time and effort and find solutions and much easier to sit back, make excuses, press charges, bitch and cry poor me. That has become the Flagler County Way and thats all our students are learning! Oh and I bet the parents wanted to press charges because thats all the bs parents have been allowed to do, they arent held accountable or responsible for their kid, he acts up at home… how do they handle him, they either whoop him or they dont bother with discipline at all and he runs the home when he misbehaves. It all starts in the home people, wake up!!
Respect the teacher says
Well said. It all starts at home and parents need To be parents. But nope, these parents are using their kid for a pay day.
Half of these kids don’t even wear a jacket or coat to school when it’s cold.
Kids need to start having respect for other classmates, teachers, the8r elders, and those in authority.
I don’t care how old a kid is, if he/she is attacking me, they are going down.
You are RIGHT on point- Parents need to step up. Most kids behave better at school-Imagine what they are like at home?
THIS NEEDS TO STOP says
I couldn’t agree MORE! These kids are allowed to do WHATEVER they want and use so many excuses, and our poor teachers are supposed to just take it, take it, take it. They’re disrespected, hit, spit at, and treated so poorly when they are dedicating their lives to OUR CHILDREN.
Wake up. Teach your kid manners, teach your kid respect, teach your kid to take responsibility. I would have NEVER tested the waters like this with ANY teacher, my mother taught me better. That is the problem today. It is SO sad.
Also, a football coach isn’t supposed to “baby” the players. FOOTBALL isn’t supposed to teach kids to be coddled, or teach them “they can play any position and get a trophy”. Sports take discipline, dedication, RESPECT, and responsibility.
It is SO sad the way our youth is being raised.
Maybe we need to re-think the whole notion of putting kids with violent tendencies in public schools to be baby-sat all day long. I can’t imagine a young lady “teaching” kids that are disruptive and violent. Then we put them in with men, who are supposed to sit back and take a violent drubbing by an out-of-control “student.” If they happen to push s kid down in a scuffle, maybe simply trying to defend themselves, they lose their jobs. “Why did you push little Johnny down when he was trying to kick you in the crotch?” It’s not worth the risk, putting your career on the line for some of these kids, in my opinion. I’m damned sure they don’t get paid enough to do it.
Mary Fusco says
They absolutely DO NOT get paid enough to babysit these crazies. Years ago, my daughter graduated from Flagler College with a degree in Special Ed. She taught for a couple of years and then QUIT. Not so much for the kids, but because of the parents that refused to teach their little darlings right from wrong. She always said, once you meet the parents, you know where the problem lies.
These unruly children should not be allowed in school with these anger issues. It is not acceptable behavior at any age. We would had our ass paddled by the principle when we were in school. We would had been expelled too. We then would have had about ass punished when we got home from our parents. Some kids have no responsibility or accountability. Never taught that at home.
Sheldon Ramage says
I grew up in Palm Coast and went to Flagler Palm Coast High School. This is where I met Mr. Ripley between 2004 and 2008. He was a great football coach and although, we had our differences he was always a good guy to talk to with good tendencies. I also know how bad the kids were then because I had an argument or two myself. I do not believe the problem enlies in the school teachers, but in the students and there disregard for school policy. There were many students with a very pugilistic state of mind. I will say that I got into a fight in highschool but only because if I didn’t i would have kept being bullied my entire time there. I also stood up against bullying multiple times and to hear this makes me only think that it is getting worse. I took my punishment and did my community service, but no matter how much community service is done the culture in the families and community needs to improve. There is no way around the stigma that is the Palm Coast / Bunnell state of mind. Even when I go back to visit, nothing has changed. I am not a professional of psychology or psychiatry but you do not have to be to see that the students would bring their hardships to school in the backpacks and sometimes leave them at school.
Note: student was being extremely physically aggressive toward the teacher. Having been a special education teacher of behaviorally disordered students, I can tell you that there is much more to the story and the videos must be carefully analyzed before judgement takes place. I have had to defensively push students back to protect myself. However, how that is handled makes all the difference. A defensive motion is different from an aggressive motion. Some administrators have a total hands off policy, but what are you supposed to do when a student grabs and attacks you unexpectedly? Are you supposed to say ” now, now Timmy, no hitting” while Timmy is punching you in the face and biting you. Face it. Teachers are in a no win situation. You can try your hardest to de-escalate, use perscribed verbage, try to protect other students, and a host of other interventions. Nice intentions, but not reality when you have a student who is out of control beyond the point of no return. Having said all of that, he made a couple of big mistakes. First of all, he never should have been alone with a violent student. He should have immediately notified the administration that he had a student out of control, and asked for assistance. I learned very quickly to always have a witness and another adult present in those type of situations to assist in using passive restraint to protect ourselves and others. We were thoroughly trained in using passive restraint and self protection. But regardless of using all precautions, teachers do get injured every day. Inevitably, the student will lie about their behavior. We went so far as to have one teacher or aide sit and just document every move the student made. It is no wonder that school districts can’t keep quality teachers. I loved each one of my students but after a point you just call it a wrap and move on with your life. I am sorry this happened, but inflammatory reporting will never bring out the whole story. Please reserve judgement until you personally view the entire video. I am curious to see it myself. District policies need to be addressed and the admistration needs to take equal blame for not having a good viable program in place to deal with students who are out of control. It is all too easy to quickly blame the teacher when the system as a whole is not set up and maintained in a proper manner to enable everyone to be safe and for the student to work through their anger and be engaged in active physiological family therapy to address the root cause of the child’s anger. Yes, there is much more to this story…
Lynnette Perry says
Never acceptable to use this amount of force. As a retired therapist, it’s not needed. The schools should be teaching teachers proper de-escalation techniques they can use. And all teachers should be state certified in proper restraint methods that do not harm anyone, but prevent a student from being a harm to themself or anyone else. (Along with type of restraint and the amount children and teens can safely have during any authorized or needed , true restraint. ) It is not difficult. I had the certification in New England. This student did not need to go through this and the teacher was not properly trained to handle the situation. This is on the hands of the school system’s neglect in providing this training.
Crystal Jackson says
I’m his mother and people are bashing my son and have no idea what happened. The video will clearly show it all. My husband and I watched it and it was horrible. My son never punched or spit on him he man handled and slammed my son hard enough for him to go to the hospital and he was throwing up from the severe concussion.
Sound like this kid needs to be in “Special School” or Special Ed away from the other students. How many times did the kid throw himself on the floor? Kicking and hitting at the teacher? Mainstreaming is such a bad idea and does not help anyone.
Maybe you forgot to read the 1st sentence of the story that stated the student is in special education, and Ripley is a special education teacher.
That means the teacher should have training to deal with these common occurences.
After reading these comments i am thinking maybe many of the commenters are also special needs.
Somehow people think handicap disabled special ed ese students are nothing more than misbehaved poorly disciplined kids.
What a shame to not understand that these children do not have the capacity to fully understand right and wrong and that is why there are specialy trained teachers to teach and handle disabled students.
This is why they are secluded to thier own class of other students with similar disabilities, not with the general population making disturbances.
It takes a real big man to aggresivly push around a 8 year old disabled kid.
Name (Required) says
Lol “Beach Room.” I remember when there wasn’t a facility for unruly kids to “resolve their emotional anger and disruption” in a peaceful setting. All I recall was a “principals office” with a reputation… and a wooden paddle mounted right on the wall. Combine that with the fear of god that my parents instilled that should they learn of any trip to said office, well, you better believe my ass never saw trouble in school. Ever. And damn near all others, too. Get it Together. Discipline starts and ends, AT HOME!! Quit coddling your kids with excuses for being disruptive turds. Fact. sit down, shut up, and take your OPPORTUNITY.
Sounds to me like, whatever this child’s IEP was, it wasn’t doing the job. It’s tragic that it had to come to this. We need to respect the fact this child has special needs but other children AND adults should not be expected to be targets of opportunity for an out of control child. It sounds to me like this child needs further evaluation–and by professionals who can do a proper and thorough evaluation and make recommendations about necessary precautions to be put in place in school and at home. If the level of care he receives cannot be met in those current environments with the available supports, then the level of care needs to be raised and other placements considered.
Crystal Jackson says
The school wasn’t following the IEP at all we were already fighting this issue the week before this incident happened.
Some inspiration for precisely this kind of situation:
Mom of 4 says
After just witnessing battery upon a child. (FOR WHATEVER REASON)
The deputy inquired what sort of disability she was referring to,
“as per the video I watched [the boy] was fully mobile.”
This is a disgusting, snooty remark!
This Deputy needs immediate retraining on identifying and dealing with emotionally disturbed people.
Ya think it would have sunk in the first go-round?
Bob Ripley needs to work in an environment far, far, FAR away from young children.
Something like a gym, where he can push around people his own size.
Never acceptable to use this amount of force.
The schools should (I know they already have) be teaching teachers proper de-escalation techniques.
All teachers should be state certified in proper restraint methods that do not harm anyone, but prevent a student from being a harm to themself or anyone else.
(Looks to me like someone thinks it should be done physically)
This student did not need to go through this and this particular teacher was not in the proper frame of mind to handle the situation.
This is on the hands of the school system’s neglect in providing this training.
C’mon man says
I don’t k ow why anyone would want to be a teacher and deal with these monsters anyways.
If this child is aggressive, why is he even in public schools? Ripley is a good teacher and coach! My son played football for him for several years and not once did he act aggressive or speak in any manner that was inappropriate! This parent is saying that everyone is lieing and that they are covering up what happened. If there is a video how is anyone not telling the truth? The boy was aggressive and should not be in the public school system. These teachers are being put under way too much scrutiny. Soon we will have no one to teach our children due to excessive persecution by parents. I do not agree with teachers being overly aggressive with kids for no reason, especially PI students but sometimes it is needed for their own protection and for the students.
My husband played football for him and he was a teacher of mine in high school!
This is completely ridiculous. I can’t stand the lack of respect in this country, the lack of respect we are teaching our children. Grow up. Have Respect. Where do you think these kids are going to end up as adults?
… thinking they can do WHATEVER they want. So insane.
Robert Ripley is a bully and has serious anger issues and yes I know him personally. He has ZERO business working around kids let alone special needs kids. I have seen him scream, verbally insult, and belittle young boys that played for him. It was no secret among players that he was not liked and hated certain players forcing them to quit. His own players made up a petition to have him removed!!! Mr Ripley needs to be removed from the school system and placed into a jail cell where he can pick on guy his own size.
My son played under this A hole for 2 years at Matanzas and pretty much all the players hated him from what my son says. There were even a petition made up to terminate him by players on his own team but that always gets swept under the rug. Its time to stop defending this monster and keep him away from children of all ages. He needs to fight men his age not 8 year olds.
Keep in mind this child is 8 years old a grown man has no right to put his hands on him there is no way he felt his life was in danger from an 8 year old who is autistic. Why don’t you all who have nothing but negative nasty comments to say put yourself and the mothers shoes how would you feel if this was your child? by the way she doesn’t send her child to school so she can get a break it’s the law educate yourself.
What training does someone moving from coaching high school students to teaching elementary ESE students receive? What requirements does the school district have in place for this kind of work? What training are officers receiving that would leave them with the impression that a disability requires difficulty with mobility? Finally, does anyone truly believe you can cure a disability with discipline? Seems like a lot of education is necessary in every case…
AN IEP is not worth the paper it is written on if it is not being followed. If Ms. Jackson is correct and the IEP protocol were not being followed, it should be more than this one teacher that should be investigated. That has larger implications for every child and every parent of a child attending our schools.