OKEECHOBEE — An ESE teacher at South Elementary School (SES) has been temporarily re-assigned while the probe into her allegedly threatening one of her students continues.
Although Debra Lynn Lunt, 61, is still employed by the Okeechobee County School District she has been removed from the classroom.
“She is working in another capacity at this time. She is not working with any children,” said Joni Ard, assistant superintendent of schools. “She was removed from the classroom immediately upon the school board’s receipt of the report.”
Lunt, N.W. Sixth Street, was arrested Thursday, Jan. 7, on one felony count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She was booked into the Okeechobee County Jail on a $5,000 bond. She has been released on bond.
A report by Deputy Tammy Serafini, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), detailed how on Dec. 11 Lunt picked up a chair and “… lunged at a student as if she was going to hit her with the chair or throw the chair at her.”
That student is 7 years old, added the deputy.
The deputy, who is a school resource officer at SES, went on to say she met with assistant principal Bryan Van Camp who reportedly told her he had been receiving complaints about Lunt’s actions.
“Bryan said there have been complaints of verbal abuse. Debra has been calling the children dummies and other derogatory names. Debra has pushed students and possibly slapped them on the hands,” continued the deputy’s report.
Deputy Serafini went on to state that SES principal Tracy Downing has talked with Lunt on several occasions for her behavior toward this particular student, as well as other students in the classroom.
It should be noted the school is currently being run by Mr. VanCamp because Mrs. Downing has been suspended pending a school board investigation into a matter unrelated to this incident.
This was Lunt’s first year as a teacher in the school’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) class.
She has been in the school system since Oct. 21, 1996.
Mrs. Ard said Lunt started teaching the ESE class Oct. 19, 2015.
School district records go on to show that Lunt taught at Okeechobee High School for seven years and was a home economics instructor.
“She was a dropout prevention teacher for one year, and then the remaining years since August 2003 she was a teacher of varying exceptionalties,” added Mrs. Ard.
Deputy Serafini stated in her report that she spoke with the girl, who reportedly said Lunt yells at her and tells her to “shut up.” The deputy indicated she then asked the child if the teacher had ever hit her, and the girl said yes.
When asked to demonstrate how and where she was hit, the girl balled up her fist and pointed to her left upper arm/shoulder area, added the deputy’s report.
Other adults in classroom 306 apparently detailed for the deputy how Lunt raised the chair over her head and acted as if she was going to throw it at the child. The child then ran to the back of the room.
It is also germane to point out that the child had reportedly caused some disturbances in class.
Another of the girl’s teachers apparently told Deputy Serafini the child had been “… misbehaving and throwing things at the teachers and around the room.”
One of the adult witnesses to the incident reportedly told the deputy when Lunt picked up the chair she yelled to the child: “How does it feel to be threatened?”
At the conclusion of her investigation, Deputy Serafini filed for an arrest warrant which was approved by assistant state attorney Ashley Albright on Dec. 21. Lunt was then arrested Jan. 7 by OCSO Deputy John Fisher, who is also a school resource officer.
As required by Florida statute, said Mrs. Ard, Lunt has been re-assigned and can have no contact with the students until the investigation has been completed and her case has made it its way through the judicial system.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News