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Sebastian principal cleared of sexual harassment charge


A School District investigation found “no evidence” to support an allegation made in March that Sebastian River High School Principal Todd Racine sexually harassed the school’s first-year athletic director, according to a report made public Monday afternoon.

The district’s investigative report states that Racine made only a single remark that not even the athletic director, Jessica Upchurch, considered to be sexual harassment, and that the principal merely used the same term that she had used in a previous conversation, the report said.

The remark in question referred to Upchurch’s “expanding” rear end.

“Ms. Upchurch was very clear in my interview with her that she did not feel that Mr. Racine had sexually harassed her, and that she did not wish to pursue a complaint for sexual harassment,” wrote Shannon Kelly, an attorney for Allen, Norton & Blue, the statewide law firm retained by the School District to investigate the allegation.

“In her view, at most, Mr. Racine had made a couple of comments in passing that she described as ‘probably inappropriate in a professional setting,’” Kelly continued. “However, it should be noted that these comments appear not to be instigated by Mr. Racine, but appear to be topics – primarily health and weight topics – that Ms. Upchurch discussed with Mr. Racine and other employees on several occasions.”

Racine, who brought attorney Beth Coke to his April 13 interview, did not deny using the term “expanding” in regard to Upchurch’s person when he and Upchurch were sitting in a golf cart, watching a track meet at the school, and their conversation turned to the approaching spring break.

According to the report, Upchurch said she told Racine she planned to use the time off to relax and work out, prompting him to respond that “perhaps that would help with her “expanding.’”

When interviewed, Racine said he simply used the same term she had used earlier and that he never intended to offend her.

The report states that several of the 12 employees interviewed – teachers, administrators and a custodian – said they didn’t have firsthand knowledge of Racine’s remarks but had heard about them from Upchurch or others at the school.

“No employees described Mr. Racine as aggressive or overbearing,” the report states. “[But] some expressed that they kept their distance from him.”

Neither Racine nor Schools Superintendent Mark Rendell responded to requests for comment on the report. Upchurch did not return a phone message left at her office Monday afternoon.

Longtime Sebastian River teacher and former assistant football coach Joe Nathaniel, who prompted the investigation when he told School Board member Laura Zorc in March that Upchurch had shared with him Racine’s remark, also declined to comment on the report.

The School District did not provide any information as to why it decided to hire an outside agency to conduct the investigation.

Though Kelly’s report cleared Racine of sexual harassment, her investigation revealed that Upchurch felt intimidated and bullied in discussions with Racine about her job responsibilities – she said they went beyond her job description – and performance.

Upchurch specifically referred to Racine’s remark that “homeowners are the best employees,” which she took to mean that she couldn’t afford to lose her job because she had recently purchased a home and had a mortgage.

The report states that Upchurch believed Racine had implied that she needed to “step it up” and that her job “was hanging.”

Racine told the investigator that his comment about Upchurch buying a home was nothing more than a commentary on the responsibility that goes with such a purchase. He denied making “any reference” to Upchurch’s employment.

The report states Upchurch thinks employees at the school may “have underlying problems with school leadership – unrelated to her concerns – and are using her concerns to push their issues forward.”

In her conclusion, Kelly wrote that she found such behavior “troubling,” and that it “appears there is a level of disconnect between Mr. Racine and a group of teachers,” particularly current and former coaches.

“During my interviews, it was clear several employees seemed to have feelings of mistrust and resentment toward Mr. Racine,” she wrote, “but I was not provided with any information during my interviews to indicate any violation of policy has occurred.”

However, Kelly included in her report a warning: “Retaliation in any form, as a result of complaints made in good faith or participation in this investigation, will not be tolerated.”