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Veteran teacher leaves job as FBI studies e-mail

April 4, 2002

A veteran history teacher is no longer with Berkeley Preparatory School because of an FBI investigation into allegations of improper contact with a student via e-mail, school officials said.

On Monday, headmaster Joseph Merluzzi either fired or accepted the resignation of 48-year-old Robert Yarnell after learning of the investigation from FBI agents, according to school officials. They would only say that Yarnell is "no longer officially associated" with the school.

FBI spokeswoman Sara Oates said she could not confirm or deny the investigation.

But according to a written release from the school, Yarnell is being investigated for "improper communication" with an unnamed student.

Berkeley officials would not give the student's age or gender.

"While evidence showed that there was no improper physical contact between Mr. Yarnell and the student, the teacher divulged privileged information to the student that could possibly compromise the academic integrity of the school," the release said. "This act is a clear violation of our school policy, as well as our mission."

Berkeley, a private preparatory school of 1,100 students in Town 'N Country, mailed letters to parents Tuesday.

Some said they were surprised about the allegations.

Elizabeth Ridley, whose daughter was on the golf team coached by Yarnell, said she never had any problems with him.

And Jayshree Shah, whose daughter was on Yarnell's debate team before she transferred to Hillsborough High School, said: "He was a nice guy. Many times she was talking about Yarnell, and she never mentioned anything bad about him."

Yarnell could not be reached Tuesday or Wednesday.

A native of Altoona, Pa., who was raised in New Port Richey, Yarnell holds a bachelor's degree from Florida Southern College and a master's degree from Pennsylvania State University. Before joining Berkeley in 1985, he taught at Hudson High and Ridgewood High schools in New Port Richey.

Yarnell taught sixth-grade geography and seventh-grade U.S. history. He was coached the middle school speech and soccer teams and girls varsity golf team. He was also a member of Hillsborough County's Historic Resources Review Board.

Berkeley officials said Yarnell's tenure was exemplary. "At this point, we're still kind of reeling," said spokeswoman Karen Humphrey.

"We expect administrators and faculty to adhere to a very strict and high moral code," she said. "When the FBI comes to your door and tells you they're investigating someone in your faculty, that's something we take very seriously."

— Staff writer David Karp and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer © St. Petersburg Times


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