State Finds Manatee Teacher Abused Students

BRADENTON — The Manatee County School District faced another scandal this week after the state released a report following the investigation of a kindergarten teacher who was found to have been abusive to students.

The report describes numerous ways in which Sheri Fink terrorized students at Braden River Elementary School. Kindergarten students described being grabbed, dragged and pushed to the floor by the teacher, who was also said to have routinely abused them verbally, with pejorative terms like “stupid” and “dumb.”

It wasn’t the only investigation into Fink, who’d already been found to have abused students by Florida Department of Children and Families investigators after a retired teacher who volunteered in her classroom notified the DCF through its child abuse hotline. School employees who witness such abuse and do not report it can be charged with a felony under Florida statutes.

Nonetheless, following the recommendation of her Discipline Review Committee, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders decided not to fire Fink for the cause. Instead, Saunders gave her a two-day suspension and a letter of reprimand, then allowed Fink to transfer to Ballard Elementary School, where she continued to teach. Fink retired at the end of last school year and remained eligible for her Florida Retirement Systems pension.

The call to the abuse hotline also triggered an investigation by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office. However, despite the gravity of the allegations, rather than have detectives investigate, MSO assigned patrol deputies. Even though students voiced complaints of physical transgressions by Fink, and the teacher refused to discuss the allegations with deputies or Child Services investigators, MSO closed the criminal case last year as “unfounded.”

Reports by both MSO and the district’s internal investigation noted that there were no injuries to the children or marks left on them from the contact. As a result of the FLDOE findings, Fink has had her educator certificate permanently revoked and can never return to teach in a Florida public school.