As she sat in her classroom at Newberry Elementary School, a fifth -grade student just wanted to learn.
While she focused on reading book assignments, her teacher, Gregg Steven Fissenden, would pace between desks and randomly creep behind her. As students read aloud, he would lower his hands, rub her back and shoulders and lace his fingers through her hair.
That was 24 years ago. He remains employed by the school district to this day.
More than two decades later, the teacher jumped from classroom to classroom and shuffled to different Alachua County elementary schools as reports were made against him.
“It was so bad that here we are in our 30s, and when you mention the man’s name, everyone cringes,” said the former student, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Fissenden received a directive warning March 21, 2005, from the principal of William S. Talbot Elementary School in Gainesville after multiple students came forward with complaints about the teacher rubbing and touching them. Six months later, Fissenden received a letter of reprimand from the principal for continued touching of students.
Years later, the teacher’s behavior lingered.
In August, social media posts sharing the teacher’s disciplinary record circulated around the Gainesville and Alachua County community.
Many elementary school parents believe justice hasn’t been served.
Traci Graves, a 49-year-old Gainesville resident and former ACPS parent, feels uneasy about Fissenden’s actions. Her concerns stem from years of stories that remain unreported and sometimes untold.
In 2003, her son told her Fissenden kissed a girl in the William S. Talbot Elementary School cafeteria, she said.
When Graves volunteered in Fissenden’s class for events, the teacher acted like any ordinary fifth grade reading teacher. She felt shocked when she learned about his alleged behaviors on Facebook.
“It's really sad for me to think that these girls are going to school and feeling uncomfortable all day around their teacher, when that's supposed to be a learning environment,” she said.
Graves offers her sympathy to those affected by Fissenden’s actions.
“They shouldn't have to feel scared or worried about what their teacher is going to do that day,” she said.
Several students in the 2017-18 school year also submitted formal complaints about Fissenden rubbing their backs and shoulders. The report describes students’ accounts of discomfort in his classroom.
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran submitted an administrative complaint for the teacher’s behavior. Fissenden signed a settlement agreement on Oct. 24, 2019, which a hearing panel in Tallahassee approved on July 31, 2020.
Fissenden was placed on probation for two employment years, fined $1,000, sent to a recovery network program and given notice of the “three strikes” provision, a Florida law stating that penalties will severely worsen for an offender once they reach three offenses.
While he isn’t allowed to teach in the classroom, his teacher certifications are valid until June 2022.
The educator was removed this year from High Springs Community School and no longer works directly with children, ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said. Fissenden is now an online-course creator for Alachua eSchool. Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment about why Fissenden is still employed.
Fissenden worked at Newberry Elementary School from 1996-2000. He then transferred to William S. Talbot Elementary School and worked there from 2001-2018. His last teaching role was at High Springs Community School from 2018-2020.
Fissenden didn’t admit or deny any allegations against him, according to the settlement agreement. After multiple calls for comment, all numbers registered under Fissenden’s name appeared to be disconnected. His alleged actions, however, weren’t limited to the previous reports.
Scarlett Giesler, a 27-year-old Gainesville resident, withdrew her fourth -grade daughter from High Springs Community School at the beginning of the school year after hearing about Fissenden’s touching allegations. Now, her daughter logs into Florida Virtual School from home.
“I have completely lost trust, respect, faith, any kind of probable decency toward Alachua County School Board to have someone like this still teaching,” Giesler said.
The student from Fissenden’s 1997 fifth grade class at Newberry Elementary, who remains anonymous, can’t shake the frightening memories of the teacher. Despite her young age, she and her classmates knew the behavior was out of line.
“It just felt gross,” she said. “And even at that age, we all felt that way.”
Students even nicknamed Fissenden “Mr. Feel and Touch,” she said. They branded him a pervert because he touched students throughout the entire school year.
She was glad to see Fissenden is being held accountable online but remained baffled he’s still employed by the district.
“It was so bad that students would complain to their parents,” she said. “I didn’t even realize he was teaching until I started seeing posts on social media about him doing this years and years later.”
She’s deeply troubled by the amount of time that has passed since her days in a Newberry Elementary classroom, squeamish as the teacher strolled down the aisles. Troubled by the exact same complaints 24 years later — all without any severe disciplinary action taken against him.
Contact Faith Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @_faithbuckley
Faith is a third-year journalism student specializing in sports media. She hopes to one day work as a play-by-play announcer for the National Hockey League.