A Rising Leaders board member declined to comment for this story on an attorney’s advice.
PANAMA CITY — Former Rising Leaders Academy Principal Tim Kitts made students and staff uncomfortable by repeatedly touching students and staff around their shoulders and through other behavior deemed inappropriate, according to documents released to The News Herald on Friday.
The claims were made through an anonymous survey of students, staff and others at Rising Leaders, a charter school from which Kitts was fired Feb. 7 after working there less than a year. A member of the school’s board of directors reported the survey results to the school on Feb. 5, the day before Kitts said he met with board members and an attorney to end his employment.
The board member who sent the 43 surveys, which an email said were related to the school’s mission, its goals for the following year and instructional leadership, wrote she was notifying the board because she was alarmed that more than 20 percent of respondents complained about Kitts’ interactions with students, according to information from a public records request. Ten of the surveys administered to students, parents and others, mentioned problems with personal space and Kitts touching their shoulders and making them uncomfortable. Those complaints came from students and staff members alike.
Kitts “can be extremely rude at times and sometimes looks at me or touches me in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable," one student response stated.
“He should not be placing his hands on students’ shoulders when talking to them, especially the female students,” a parent survey response stated. “That’s not only a disrespect to the student culture but could amount to harassment.”
Staff also said Kitts’ touching and other behavior made them and others uncomfortable, with one writing he “insults students by calling them dogs.” Some names were redacted in the documents, and The News Herald is not naming school staff members who made allegations as part of the survey.
Kitts joined Rising Leaders in July 2017, then gave no reason for his resignation in February, though it came the day after the email from a board member expressing concerns about the survey’s findings. Kitts since has filed a lawsuit against Rising Leaders claiming he wasn’t given a reason for his job ending and breach of contract.
A Rising Leaders board member declined to comment for this story on advice of their attorney. Shaina Thorpe, a Tampa-based attorney representing Kitts, said she was unfamiliar with the survey’s allegations when reached for comment.
“This sounds like something manufactured by the school after the fact in order to justify its unlawful termination of Dr. Kitts, who has proven himself to be a valuable asset to these charter schools over the course of his distinguished career,” Thorpe said.
Kitts also was the former CEO of Bay Haven Charter Academy but left in early 2016 as allegations of harassment against female staff by Kitts. Those allegations resulted in two lawsuits against Kitts, both of which have been settled, the most recent for $150,000 in February.
Eryn Dion contributed and did the reasearch for this report.