BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County teacher is facing misdemeanor battery charges over allegations she bit two students over a jar of pickles.
The teacher, Rhonda Rice, told school administrators she was “playing around with students,” according to a Polk County Public Schools spokesperson.
“I think she needs to learn what she did and what she did was wrong,” said Kathy Toro.
Toro said she contacted 8 On Your Side after months passed without any action taken.
Toro’s 15-year old nephew is a student at Bartow Middle School. She said in October, he and another student were working at the school store when Rice tried to take a jar of pickles.
Her nephew and another student tried to take the jar back.
“She just bit them on the forearm and, of course, they released and she was able to get the pickles but there’s other ways to do that,” said Toro.
The students reported the behavior to school administrators, who contacted Toro.
Toro went to Bartow police to press charges in November. According to an affidavit filed by Bartow police, Rice admitted to licking the students.
“Even if it was and she did lick him, but I don’t believe she did, it’s still not acceptable to me,” said Toro.
Bartow police and the state attorney’s office have filed two misdemeanor battery charges against Rice. She is set to be arraigned on March 31.
In the meantime, she is no longer working at Bartow Middle School. She was placed on paid administrative leave pending a review.
Upon completion of the review, Rice was suspended for three days and relocated to Sleepy Hill Middle School.
“Although she described her actions as playing around with students, we expect our employees to act professionally and serve as models of mature behavior. They must set a good example for students to follow, and anything less is unacceptable,” wrote Polk County Public Schools spokesperson Jason Geary in a statement.
Rice has been a teacher in the Polk County Public Schools system since 2000. There are four prior disciplinary actions in her personnel file:
Sept. 2001, Boone Middle — verbal reprimand due to lack of effective preparation of materials on a timely basis
Dec. 2001, Boone Middle — letter of reprimand due to not preparing necessary materials and paperwork for ESE hearing
July 2008, Sleepy Hill Middle — one-day suspension due to excessive use of district-issued computer for personal business during times that should have been used for instructing/planning for classes
March 2015, Sleepy Hill Middle — verbal warning with a written confirmation for repeated failure to complete a scheduled IEP in a timely manner
News Channel 8 attempted to contact Rice by phone several times Monday and did not hear back. A family member said she would pass along our request to her.