School board approves investigation into accuser
SARASOTA- In a 3-2 vote of the Sarasota School Board, members approve expanding an ongoing sexual harassment investigation to include looking into the accuser.
“Of course shock,” Attorney Sara Blackwell said. “But also a little bit of gratefulness, it’s as if they gave me or gave Raina a retaliation claim on a silver platter.”
Cheraina Bonner has filed two complaints with the district, one against COO Jeff Maultsby for repeated sexual harassment and a second against Superintendent Todd Bowden for ignoring those complaints.
Now her contact with the teacher’s union will be investigated.
“For her she’s had to deal with a lot of fear of Maultsby,” Blackwell said. “And she’s had emotional trauma and she’s trying to be strong, but she’s still in her work environment, she still goes everyday.”
Superintendent Bowden requested an expansion of the investigation look into Bonner’s possible ties to the teacher’s union.
“A meeting between a confidential employee and the teacher’s union under regular circumstances would cause me great concern,” Bowden said. “But in the midst of the investigation, I just thought for the completeness, the thoroughness of that investigation, they needed to touch on what that relationship was.”
Bowden says communication with the union relates directly to Bonner’s complaint that he and the district did not act swiftly when reporting assault.
“I believe it’s extremely relevant,” Bowden said. “The basis of that was a timeline, and if there is communication with the union throughout that process I think that’s material.”
School Board Members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson voted against the expansion.
“They are re-victimizing Ms. Bonner,” Robinson said. “They are dragging her name through the mud. They are questioning, after seeing those text messages, why did you call sexual harassment.”
Bonner’s Attorney Sara Blackwell says this could discourage victims from coming forward in the future.
“You’re telling all these women in Sarasota,” Blackwell said. “If you come forward with sexual harassment, especially if it’s with someone above you, well be careful, we’re watching where you go to lunch, we’re watching who you have lunch with.
It is unclear how long the investigation will continue for. COO Jeff Maultsby is on paid leave while the investigation is ongoing.