An administrative law judge has dismissed all charges against Alex Osuna, a Miami Palmetto High biology teacher who resigned in 2017 amid allegations of an “improper relationship” with a student, ruling that Osuna did not know the 18-year-old who he did have sex with was still a high school student.
The May ruling to dismiss Osuna’s charges was accepted by the state’s Education Practices Commission earlier this month. Osuna’s teaching certificate is still valid until 2020, according to the Florida Department of Education website.
According to the case file, no one including Osuna disputed that he knew the student was a junior at Palmetto in January 2016 when she tried out for the school’s girls’ lacrosse team while Osuna was the team coach. It was also true that Osuna texted the student, “How are you?” in December 2016 and received no response.
But in March 2017, barely two weeks after the student turned 18, Osuna texted the student again and she responded. The two exchanged sexually graphic texts and photographs. Four days later, the student was driven by a friend to Briar Bay Park to have sex with Osuna in his car.
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What was in dispute was whether Osuna knew the 18-year-old was still a high school student, which would have been a violation of the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession. Osuna said he believed the student had graduated after the fall semester, testifying that she had told him she was backpacking in Africa between December and March while taking classes at Miami Dade College.
The student, in fact, left Palmetto in January 2017 and was placed in a hospital/homebound program, eventually graduating from virtual school in June.
The student, who is not being named to protect her identity, testified that she “guessed he [Osuna] knew” she was still a high school student, given that she was a junior at Palmetto the previous year, but “It never came up,” she said. She testified that she could not recall telling Osuna that she had been to Africa and took courses at MDC but also said there were more texts in her phone that were not introduced as evidence.
Judge Robert Cohen ruled that the Florida Department of Education, which pushed to impose discipline on Osuna, needed “clear and convincing evidence” to prove the allegations against Osuna. Cohen noted that while Osuna asserted that he did not know the student was still in high school, he fully cooperated with the investigation, while the student’s “lack of candor and lack of cooperation” with investigators as well as her incomplete memory of her texts with Osuna, “bring into question her truth and veracity when testifying against Osuna.”
Osuna had several people testify in his favor, including Palmetto High Principal Victoria Dobbs, science department head Pamela Schlachtman, parent and lacrosse team booster club president Nicola Rousseau and her daughter, former student and lacrosse team leader Samantha Rousseau. They testified that Osuna had a stellar reputation in his 10 years teaching at Palmetto.
Osuna thanked his supporters in an email to the Miami Herald.
“I wish I could go right back into the classroom without having to think to myself if my students bring up the allegations, or even worse if the parents of my students feel uncomfortable with me being their kid’s teacher,” Osuna, now 35, wrote. “So for now, I will continue with my life trying to stay optimistic that one day I could comfortably go back into the education system to some capacity.”
Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade County school district, said the state’s ruling had no bearing on Osuna’s status in the district.
“Once this incident was brought to our attention early last year, we determined he would be precluded from seeking future employment with the district,” she wrote in an email.
The mother of the student, who is not being identified to protect her daughter’s identity, said she was disappointed in the ruling. She said her daughter never went to Africa and was always a student in the Miami-Dade public school system.
“She said she never told him that ever. She never mentioned to him that she was going to Miami Dade [College],” the mother told the Herald.
She also said her daughter spoke with detectives three or four times, each time they came to the family’s home, allowing them to look at her phone.
“I don’t know what lack of cooperation they’re talking about,” she said.