Polk Co. teacher, ‘Coach T,’ arrested in connection to Kathleen High School protest

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — A Polk County teacher is facing criminal charges and termination after allegedly telling students “we [are] doing a protest tomorrow morning.”

Fifteen students were arrested following a Monday morning protest at Kathleen High School in Lakeland.

Tomaris Hill, known as “Coach T,” was first hired as an athletic coach by Polk County Public Schools in 2018 and became a social studies teacher in 2019, according to a school district spokesperson.

He was arrested in Orange County Monday night on charges related to conspiring to interfere with the education process and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, both misdemeanors.

His arrest affidavit alleges Hill began posting videos to social media about the school’s new principal, Daraford Jones, in recent weeks.

“Mr. Jones, we don’t want you here at Kathleen,” he said, according to the affidavit. “HELP OUR KIDS At Kathleen High School!!! They’re crying out for your help and support of unfair treatment by this principal.”

Hill said Jones “treated kids like inmates” and would lock students out who showed up late, a refrain that was repeated in social media posts and interviews during the protest.

“Some of the concerns that were originally expressed by students and those misrepresented by one of the adults on campus were patently false,” said Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid during a virtual “Community Conversation” on Facebook Monday evening.

8 On Your Side has reached out to Hill for comment and has not heard back.

Sunday morning, Hill sent a text message to members of a group he advises at school saying they were going to protest the next morning, according to the affidavit.

“The goal is to block off traffic from getting into school to make the street backup,” his text message read.

The next morning, 200 students showed up to protest around Hill, blocking the entrance to the school.

At one point, according to the affidavit, some students were walking away from the school and Hill redirected them to the school where they started chanting “Jones gotta go.”

“Rather than set a good example by encouraging students to have productive conversations with school administration, Tomaris Hill incited students into disruptive and dangerous conduct,” Heid said in a statement. “He left as law enforcement began to regain control of the campus and left students to face the consequences.”

Heid said the district is “moving forward with terminating his employment.”

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