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Jan. 19, 2000 | Swinging teacher assigned new classroom -- in jail

The seamy case of Kenneth Springer, a high school teacher caught in a sheriff's raid on a sex club, ended Tuesday when the Broward School Board agreed to let him return to classroom duties - inside a county jail.

Board members made their ruling in a room jammed with television cameras in a replay of the media circus that descended on the Broward public school district last summer, when the board voted to suspend geography teacher Kenneth Springer.

But the usually effusive group kept mum on Springer's case, voting without comment to reinstate him as an adult-education teacher. Board member Darla Carter, the dissenter in the 8-1 vote, didn't state her reasons.

"We're happy that it is over and that Mr. Springer will be returned to work, " said Tony Gentile, president of the Broward Teachers Union, who attended the meeting on Springer's behalf. "We still believe that this is adult, private, consensual behavior, and that the school district had no right to intrude in it whatsoever."

The board is still recovering from an onslaught of unwanted national publicity that followed its decision in August to suspend Springer and another teacher because of their arrests at Athena's Forum, a swingers' club.

Springer, a 48-year-old teacher at South Broward High School in Hollywood, was arrested Jan. 17, 1999, at the now-defunct club outside Pompano Beach; he went to the club with his wife. The sting by the Broward Sheriff's Office also netted Tonya Whyte, 34, a math teacher at Deerfield Beach High School. The two teachers were at the club separately.

No criminal charges were filed against Springer. Whyte faces a lewdness charge and awaits trial Feb. 2. She also faces a School Board hearing on her future as a teacher. Charlotte Greenbarg, a parent activist from Hollywood, lambasted the district's plan to allow Springer to return to a high school classroom in about two years if he stays out of trouble. Greenbarg contended she spoke for many Broward residents.

"We're not right-wing religious nuts. And we're not Caligula, " she said. "But most people would not want their children taught by a person who attends sex orgies."

Others have argued the School Board never should have punished Springer in the first place.

"The School Board is not God, " said Alan Mostow, co-owner of Trapeze II, another club raided last winter by sheriff's investigators. "This is America. People have the right to do what they want to do as long as it doesn't impose on someone else."

Meanwhile, in the first of the cases against dozens of patrons of Athena's Forum and Trapeze II to go to trial, the state said Tuesday it would appeal a Broward Circuit Court judge's decision last week to require someone other than an undercover police witness to say they were offended by alleged lewd activity at the clubs.

When Judge Gary R. Cowart issued his opinion Jan. 12, defense lawyers said it meant that prosecutors were without a case because no civilians had complained about the consensual sexual activity engaged in by couples at the clubs. The state might as well throw in the towel, defense attorney Daniel Aaronson said.