State settles with popular Boca teacher who district tried to fire

An award-winning Boca Raton High teacher who survived school district leaders’ attempt to fire her last year for her actions while mentoring a troubled student has agreed to pay a state fine to settle the case.

Samantha Major, now a psychology teacher at Spanish River High, was targeted for termination by Palm Beach County’s public schools after administrators said she violated school district policy in her handling of her relationship with the student, including failing to report the students’ conflicting claims of being sexually abused years earlier.

The school district abandoned its plans to fire her in February 2017 after a Palm Beach Post story about her case prompted a public outcry. Instead of termination, Major agreed to receive a written reprimand and be transferred to Spanish River High temporarily.

RELATED: The price of mentoring? Why this Boca Raton teacher is being fired

Now the state’s Education Practices Commission has issued a $750 fine and an additional letter of reprimand as part of a settlement with Major. She is also required to take a one-hour course on identifying and reporting child abuse.

The state alleged that Major had “knowingly failed to report actual or suspected child abuse.” In a settlement agreement, Major did not contest the allegation but was not required to admit fault.

In an interview, Major said she was pleased with the settlement, which does not affect her teaching license and allows her to continue teaching.

“I was worried, honestly, whether truth and justice would prevail,” she said. “I feel like it’s my calling to teach and I’m just so grateful to do that.”

Major was Boca High’s reigning “New Teacher of the Year” and a participant in the school’s mentoring program for struggling students when she bonded with an emotionally troubled 15-year-old student in late 2015.

RELATED: Avossa strikes deal with Boca High teacher he tried to fire

Major told investigators that the girl confided in her about friends and family members but also told wild tales and made repeated false claims.

Among the claims that the girl made to Major: that she had once been raped by another minor while she was in elementary school.

Major later admitted that she waited more than three months to report the girl’s claims of being sexually assaulted, which she found unreliable.

State law requires teachers to notify state authorities if they have “reasonable cause to suspect” a child is a victim of sexual abuse.

But Major told investigators that she did not believe she had good reason to report the claim, saying that the student had a pattern of lying, that her account of the rape changed over time (first involving a neighbor, then a relative) and that the student said the incident was investigated years beforehand.

Major also texted with the student frequently and agreed to meet the student one evening in March 2016 after the girl told her she ran away from home and intended to sleep in the streets, records show.

Pressured by the girl’s parents to take action, the school district barred her from teaching and tried to arrest her for failing to report the abuse claim, a third-degree felony carrying a potential five-year prison sentence. When state prosecutors rejected the case, the district moved to fire her.

After The Post published a story on the case, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa defended his decision to fire her but later abandoned the plan amid widespread opposition from parents, teachers and some school board members.

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