Sexual Abuse Victim’s Attorney Jeff Herman Announces Filing of Lawsuit Against Heartland Christian Academy in Sebring, Florida
Heartland Christian Academy administration says it did not know that Jack Charles Howard III had his educator’s certificate revoked by the state for five years effective March 2016.
When hiring a physical education teacher and coach in August 2018, Heartland Christian Academy administration and staff were unaware the new hire was someone who had worked for The School Board of Highlands County until being fired for disciplinary reasons.
Also, Heartland Christian didn’t know that their new teacher, Jack Charles Howard III, had his educator’s certificate revoked by the state for five years effective March 2016.
Howard was arrested Jan. 9 on one count of lewd and lascivious behavior against a minor who was between 12 and 16 years of age at the time. Additional charges of four counts of lewd and lascivious behavior and one count of battery were filed on Feb. 7.
Howard entered a plea of “not guilty” on Jan. 14 to the initial charge of lewd and lascivious behavior. He entered a plea of “not guilty” on Feb. 18 on the subsequent four counts of lewd and lascivious behavior and one count of battery.
Howard was released on bond after his initial arrest on Jan. 9 and then released on Feb. 8 after posting a $105,000 bond following his Feb. 7 arrest on the additional charges.
His employment at the academy was terminated following his arrest.
The charges stem from incidents that occurred on the school’s campus between August 2018 and January 2019 involving a total of four female victims between the ages of 12-16, according to Assistant State Attorney Courtney Lenhart.
Heartland Christian Academy Director Rebekah Kogelschatz said Wednesday that Heartland Christian did not know the state had revoked Howard’s educator’s certificate prior to him being hired at Heartland Christian.
“We found that out after his arrest,” she said. “When he was arrested, a staff member found it online. We had not been given information that he had been working in Highlands County before.”
Highlands News-Sun asked if Howard filled out an employment application and did not list The School Board of Highlands County as one of his employers?
Kogelschatz replied, “Yes.”
Following Howard’s arrest, it was shared at a parent meeting that he had an incident in the Highlands School District that was unrelated to students, which Heartland Christian found out about after the fact, she said.
The State of Florida Education Practices Commission revoked Howard’s educator’s certificate for five years based on a complaint that he was a substitute teacher in the Highlands County School District on Nov. 5, 2014, when he had sexual intercourse with a female teacher on campus in an area that was accessible to students.
Private schools in Florida don’t have the same requirements as public schools concerning teacher certification. Private school teachers don’t need a state educator’s certificate as required in public schools.
Kogelschatz said Heartland Christian seeks teachers who have college degrees in the area of the subject they are teaching.
“But, I am not under the obligation to hire a certified teacher,” she said. But, if she knew his certification had been revoked, Howard would not have been hired, she said.
Highlands News-Sun asked what type of background checks did the school utilize for new hires and have there been any changes in those procedures since Howard’s arrest?
Kogelschatz said she would not immediately respond.
“It is disheartening to see so many sexual abuse cases involving teachers,” said Jeff Herman, a nationally recognized trial attorney for victims of sexual abuse.
“Parents put their trust in schools. Children deserve to feel safe and protected. These institutions are failing our kids and communities, and they need to be held accountable. I hope to give this victim a voice, help her on the path to healing, and seek justice.”