Fla. Teacher Charged as Children Pay to Cut Gym

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2006

MIAMI, Feb. 16 -- What with all those calisthenics and sweating, some kids would rather pay than go to gym class.

If only they had Terence Braxton, police say, as a teacher.

Braxton allowed kids to skip his class if they paid him $1 a day, according to charges filed by authorities in Escambia County, Fla. They say he may have racked up more than $1,000 over three months.

The 28-year-old teacher has been charged with six felony counts of bribery and turned himself in on Thursday at a Pensacola jail. He was released on his own recognizance.

"If you had 100 kids paying, that's not bad in tax-free money," said Ronnie Arnold, associate superintendent of the Escambia County schools.

Braxton's phone number is not listed, and he could not be reached for comment.

The second-year teacher at Ernest Ward Middle School in a rural area on Florida's Panhandle was popular and coached the boys' basketball team. Beginning teachers make about $30,000.

"The basketball team had lost every game for five years," Principal Nancy Gindl-Perry said. "This year, we only lost two games, and they were only by two points. He had a very good rapport with the kids."

Suspicions about Braxton arose during a parent-teacher conference, when the teacher known as "Coach Braxton" and a student differed on attendance records.

"Coach said he'd missed four or five classes," Gindl-Perry recalled. "Well, the look on the child's face. Then the mother said, 'You told your dad and I you only missed one.' "

Eventually, the student said he had paid Braxton "several times," Gindl-Perry said.

An investigation, conducted by the school and the sheriff's office, showed that there had been "30 victims," said Mike Ward, Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

The prosecutions are proceeding on the accounts of six of those students, who allegedly paid Braxton $230. A teacher's aide recalled Braxton telling a student he was owed $5, Ward said.

The $1 fee is considered bribery because it is "unlawful compensation for official behavior," Ward said.

Braxton resigned last month, school officials said.

"It's just sad," Gindl-Perry said. "Our troubled young kids -- he could reach them. Now he's gone."

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