A spat that began with two middle school students and a water bottle has ended months later with the Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday voting to fire their teacher for his actions and the tirade that investigators say followed.
Jeffrey Schector, 46, was teaching math at Eagles Landing Middle School in suburban Boca Raton when the incident happened last May.
“Honestly, it was an ugly scene,” Schector confirmed Tuesday.
The story he tells doesn’t stray far from the official account in the investigation. But, he says, it is missing all the elements that give it humanity and perspective and the bit of closure he says school and district officials stole from him.
From Schector’s perspective, the story stretches back before last year’s holiday break as he built rapport with one eighth-grade student who sat near the teacher’s desk and thought enough of Schector to be the only student to give Schector a gift and card for Christmas.
Then, in May, that boy, as Schector tells it, became a victim of two other students who stole the boy’s water bottle.
According to the investigators, as the boy attempted to retrieve the bottle, “water spilled onto Mr. Schector’s paper and he began to scream at the student (who stole it in the first place).”
“It’s the last period, after testing. They spray my papers. I got upset, I started cursing. I wasn’t looking at them, but I dropped a couple f-bombs,” Schector said.
Meanwhile, Schector says the primary bully — from his perspective — inadvertantly dropped his phone on the floor and Schector pocketed it before the boy saw it.
This is a move that Schector felt was pay back for the bullying. But the boy, by both Schector’s and the investigators’ accounts, became “frantic” about the loss.
As the bell was about to ring, the victim of the water bottle theft alerted the alleged bully that Schector had the phone.
“The kid I was trying to defend just sold me out and it set me off. It got ugly,” Schector admits. And he turned that anger on the very boy he sought to defend, he conceded.
“He began screaming and cursing at him,” according to the report. “The student left the classroom and began to cry.”
“The next day he’s gone from my class. … I never got the chance to talk to him. I didn’t get the chance to tell him I was wrong and I was on his side. I lost the respect of a student I had been close with,” Schector said, now five months later.
Schector, who lives in Boynton Beach, returned to school this fall. But he was removed Oct. 9, he said. He entered the employee assistance program as his bosses directed. He sought help from the teacher’s union, but he said he didn’t do that until it was too late.
District investigators note he had a previous reprimand in his file.
Schector believes he’s the victim of a clean-house mentality that skipped a middle step before firing him. And he’s resigned to it; says he can’t afford a protracted battle over his job.
And what did he want to say?
“I’m trying to stick up for you, son, and you misinterpreted everything,” he said. “In the past, if I did go off on a student for a reason, I’d be able to talk to them so they could understand where I was coming from. It built rapport. It’s a different world out there.
“It’s not the way I pictured going out, but I’m just collateral damage,” Schector said before Wednesday’s vote.
“I’m fully aware my teacher career is going to end,” Schector said Tuesday night. “I’m not a criminal. I was just a teacher who raised my voice and lost the respect of a student I liked and never got to apologize. If they really don’t want me, I’m not going to fight it.”