Joseph Cofield: Former Florida Educator of Year resigns before likely suspension

BONITA SPRINGS,Fla. - Facing suspension without pay, a Bonita Springs teacher once named Florida Educator of the Year resigned Tuesday.

Lee County School Board members were set to approve suspending Joseph Cofield who was named Educator of the Year by the Professional Educators Network of Florida in 2008 during a special meeting Tuesday. Instead they approved his resignation after he gave it in writing before the meeting.

Lee schools Superintendent Joseph Burke said after the meeting that the Bonita Springs Middle School history and computer science teacher likely resigned to escape the district's recommendation to suspend him without pay until the board received and acted upon the recommended order of an administrative law judge. The superintendent said administrators made that decision based on ethical and disciplinary issues.

Board members voted quickly, unanimously and without comment to approve Cofield's resignation.

Cofield, who became a teacher after leaving the U.S. Army through the Troops to Teachers program, was previously suspended by the school board in March 2010 after being accused of pushing a student. He requested an administrative hearing, which protected him from being fired immediately through the teachers union collective bargaining agreement.

He returned to the classroom the next year after reaching a settlement agreement.

State records show Cofield received a letter of reprimand and was placed on a two-year probation in August 2011 based on his history of disciplining students, which included pushing them, calling them names such as "fruitcake" and "knucklehead" and threatening them with comments like "I will cut your fingers off." He had been disciplined on several occasions for similar issues, with two letters of reprimand from a principal in 2005, one in 2006 and three in 2009.

As part of his settlement, Cofield was required to take a course in classroom management.

In 2008, when Cofield was named Educator of the Year, students and the Bonita Middle principal praised him for helping students obtain college scholarships and being active in the community. Cofield helped launch the Florida Future Educators of America program at the school, helped start an event that raised money for developing teachers and dedicated extra time outside the school day helping students.

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