DCF Investigates 'Very Serious Allegations' Against First Coast Coach | Families

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DCF Investigates 'Very Serious Allegations' Against First Coast Coach
Families, Schools

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Department of Children and Families is investigating a local high school football coach who has led a parent to remove her children from an area private school.

Terri Augspurger pulled her two children out of Providence Private School, because she said Paul Peterson, the school's varsity football coach and P.E. teacher, spoke inappropriately to a group of fifth-grade boys.

The school confirms Peterson was asked to give 33 boys, including Augspurger's son, a pep talk to address behavior issues.

But Augspurger said from what her son and his friends told her, the coach went too far.  

"If he heard of them ever being disrespectful, they would have to stay after school with him and it would be the longest and the worst 28 minutes of their life," she said. "It would be the worst physical punishment they could ever imagine."

But Peterson denies the allegations. "Absolute lie. Absolute lie," he said. 

He didn't do anything wrong, he said, and in fact, he thought his message to the kids went well. When it was over, some kids gave him a hug, he said.

If anything, he said, his firm voice and energy may have been misinterpreted. "It is funny...(students) think you're yelling at them. No, I said, 'sit down and get your book'," Peterson recalled. "That's not yelling, that's being firm."

Augspurger, however, said it may have gone beyond verbal.

"There are allegations that he was walking around and he popped a couple kids on the back of the heads," said Augspurger.

Peterson said he gave roughly four students a light tap on their shoulder, because they were slouching, and told them to sit up. "It was a whisper," he said.

The Department of Children and Families said several students are listed as possible victims. DCF officials have interviewed those students and will now contact their parents.

John Harrell, spokesman with DCF, couldn't answer specific questions about this case for legal reasons, but said in all investigations if they don't find validity in the allegations then the case is immediately closed.

The department will determine if any of the students suffered mental injury as a result of Peterson's talk, Harrell said.

"Are these children experiencing long-term emotional effects? Are they having problems sleeping? Are they having nightmares? Are they still speaking out, very concerned about this incident?" Harrell said, listing some of the questions that still need to be answered. 

He calls the allegations, "very serious."

"We have already talked to the school to tell them that based on the allegations of what has happened that we've expressed concerns that this is not appropriate," said Harrell. 

Peterson continues working at Providence. School officials said other parents besides Augspurger expressed concerns over the situation and the school looked into it, but concluded that Peterson did nothing wrong.  School officials including the headmaster, call Peterson a great teacher, coach and man.

If DCF finds one or more of the students did suffer psychological effects, it could remove Peterson from the school for up to 90 days.  After that, DCF could ask a judge to extend it.

Families, Schools

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