A fired educator in Palm Beach County plans to appeal to get her job back.
Cindy Lucia is the former athletic director of Olympic Heights Community High School in west Boca Raton. She was accused of stealing at least $16,000 in workout supplements for sports she didn’t train at school.
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“I stand before you and I’m still fighting for a job that has been my whole life,” an emotional Lucia told members of the Palm Beach County school board Wednesday night, pleading to keep her job in the district.
The former sporting director was criminally charged with grand theft and official misconduct in 2021.
“I can’t express to you the emotional roller coaster I’ve been put on, just because I was paid as directed and with my manager’s approval,” Lucia said.
Lucia’s arrest report says she took at least $16,000 in workout supplements for sports she didn’t actually train at Olympic Heights High School. She claimed she had permission.
“Dave Clark, the manager, asked me to submit my name under three training supplements to be paid for the activities position because there was no district supplement for this position,” Lucia told the council members.
On September 15, a jury found Lucia not guilty of the charges.
But the school district investigation is something separate. On Wednesday, the board still found that “misappropriation of funds for unperformed duties” was grounds for dismissal.
“Speaking to the staff, there was a member of staff who wanted or was coaching, but was told he couldn’t get the supplement because the sporting director had taken the supplement, even though he was actually coaching” , Teresa Michael, the school’s district inspector general, said Wednesday.
“There were people who were entitled to the money and didn’t get it because of the athletic director,” added school board chairman Frank Barbieri. “That’s stealing from another employee, and she doesn’t deserve to keep her job if she did that.”
The board approved Lucia’s dismissal, 4 to 3.
“She didn’t take anything from anyone,” said Michael Salnick, Lucia’s attorney. “It was a misconception of the facts. Of course, in a school board meeting, I can’t stand up and say an objection.”
Salnick said they would appeal Lucia’s dismissal.
“There were employees who could not receive these supplements because Ms. Lucia demanded them, and therefore she took advantage of the opportunity of others. How do you respond to that?” WPTV educational reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Salnick on Thursday.
“Absolutely, totally wrong,” Salnick replied. “The principal is the one who has to approve the supplements. Ms. Lucia provided the same supplements that her former principal told her to provide.”
Lucia was reassigned to Jupiter Farms Elementary School during the investigation.
WPTV asked to speak directly to Lucia on Thursday, but she declined.
“If there was one thing in the law that would say innocent instead of not guilty, it would be Cindy Lucia. Because she did nothing wrong,” Salnick said.
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