Florida teacher accused of abusing students for decades including calling biracial student a ‘mutt’
A teacher in Florida has been accused of harassing students, making racist comments, and hurling personal attacks – some of which occurred decades ago.
Todd Harvey, who teaches social studies at Wharton High in Tampa, has an extensive file of complaints against him, including allegations he used a Nazi salute towards a German student in class and calling biracial student Melanie Copeland a ‘mutt’.
Harvey – who still managed to keep his job despite the abuse allegations – was described as a ‘mercurial white man’ in Hillsborough County Public Schools, where he has taught students of color since the late 1990s.
‘I understand it is not uncommon for this man to reduce students to tears.’ wrote one parent in 1999.
The Tampa Bay Times recently published a report detailing sexual harassment at the local Hillsborough County high school, which prompted a former biracial student to contact the paper about Harvey’s behavior towards her family.
Allegations have been made against Tampa teacher Todd Harvey that he taunted female, black, Latino, and queer students in his classroom for over 20 years
‘I thought I was the only one who had a serious problem with Hillsborough County trying to sweep things under the rug,’ Melanie Copeland (pictured) said. What she didn’t realize was that both teachers and parents had been complaining about Harvey since before she was born
Harvey taught social studies at Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida
The report cataloged at least 23 allegations of misconduct against Harvey, that range from making inappropriate comments towards pupils to making outright racists gestures.
The paper also found that some incidents were not documented by school administrators, which would be a violation of district policies.
The school district refused to provide details about specific examples, citing student privacy laws, but the Tampa Bay Times managed to document those which were known to have been reported to school administrators.
Harvey wanted to know what Copeland put down as her race on government forms.
He told her that she should put down ‘mutt’.
‘I thought I was the only one who had a serious problem with Hillsborough County trying to sweep things under the rug,’ Copeland told the Times. What she didn’t realize was that both teachers and parents had been complaining about Harvey since before she was born.
In August 1997, Harvey began working at Walker Middle School as a supervisor for in-school suspension. The following year, he started working at Riverview High School where he continued to supervise in-school suspension and also coached baseball.
Melanie Copeland reported a racist incident involving her teacher while at Wharton meHigh
On Monday night, Copeland posted to Instagram how her story was finally being heard
Harvey, who taught social studies at Wharton High School was never rebuked or disciplined although he was suspended without pay in 2015 for five days
Harvey is accused of calling a biracial girl a ‘mutt,’ making a Nazi salute at a German student, and using a metal pipe to crack across students’ desks if they fell asleep
However, in September 1999, the Riverview Principal, Vince Thompson, sent an email to Harvey regarding a complaint from a parent about Harvey playing music in class. The principal had previously instructed Harvey to stop such behavior.
A student had reported that Harvey regularly humiliated students and made it difficult for them to concentrate due to the noise.
In December 1999, a parent filed a report stating that Harvey had shamed students who had divorced parents and that his punishment style seemed like harassment. Two months later, in February 2000, the same parent claimed that Harvey expressed anger about the complaint and expressed hatred towards the parent’s daughter.
In March of that same year another parent reported that Harvey had called his daughter ‘slutty’ and a student said Harvey told her he planned to divorce his wife and marry her when she turned 21.
An investigation was launched and Harvey was reprimanded for his inappropriate comments. Principal Thompson warned Harvey that any future remarks would result in a recommendation for termination.
During a game against a Fort Myers school, a Riverview pitcher threw a ball at a rival player’s head. The Fort Myers principal asked Coach Harvey if the pitch had been intentional, but Harvey denied it. The following month, the Fort Myers principal reported that a Riverview parent had alleged Harvey told the pitcher to hit the rival player, It’s not clear how that complaint was resolved.
Harvey has been described as a ‘mercurial white man’ who has taught in Hillsborough County Public Schools since the late 1990s
The allegations against Harvey go back to 1999
Harvey moved to become a social studies teacher at Wharton High School in August 2000.
It was six years before Wharton Principal George Gaffney reprimanded Harvey for allowing students to pay him to boost their grades and for inappropriate comments made to students in September 2006.
Two years later, in October 2008, a parent reported to the new Wharton Principal Bradley Woods that Harvey had initially refused to move a test for a student to observe a Jewish holiday. Harvey eventually relented but student missed additional material that appeared on the test and received a D grade on the exam.
There followed a quieter period until October 2014, when a parent named Kathy Brothers complained that a German exchange student she was hosting had been having a hard time in Harvey’s class.
The student claimed that Harvey called her ‘Germany’ instead of her name and bullied her.
Brothers had previously reported that Harvey performed a Nazi salute at another German exchange student.
In November 2014, the district launched an investigation into Harvey’s treatment of the exchange student after Brothers reported that Harvey had retaliated by mocking the student to her peers.
Eight other students made various allegations against Harvey during the investigation, including making fun of Latino students, calling a transgender student a slur, degrading women, using inappropriate nicknames, and scaring students with a metal bar that he would crack across their desks if he fell asleep.
The investigation concluded in March 2015 with Harvey receiving a five-day suspension without pay.
He was warned that any future inappropriate interactions with students would result in his likely termination.
In December 2016, a teacher reported to Wharton Principal Woods after a student claimed to have received a high score on an exam in Harvey’s class because it matched the answers sheet that he had provided them.
An investigation was launched with Harvey being issued a written reprimand in February 2017 for breaking Florida testing laws. All of his students’ scores were invalidated.
Harvey is believed to still be teaching social studies at Wharton school although his name no longer appears on the school’s website.
In a statement regarding Harvey’s history, district spokesperson Tanya Arja said complaints are generally handled at the school level, where issues might not be documented or brought to the district’s attention.
‘Incidents involving Mr. Harvey were investigated, and he was disciplined in a progressive manner,’ Arja said.