Elementary principal accused of having child porn 'fell through the cracks'

Brevard Schools to enact changes in response to arrest

By James Sparvero - Reporter

VIERA, Fla. - ​Brevard County school leaders said they were fooled for years by a longtime teacher now locked up on charges of possessing child porn.

"In many ways, we're a victim, too. We trusted him. He did fall through the cracks in a 17-year period," said Brevard Schools spokeswoman Michelle Irwin.

Had Ricky Sheppard, 59, previously gotten into trouble under the current leadership of Brevard Schools, he likely would have been fired well before his arrest Friday, Irwin said. That's when the sheriff says investigators found more than 1,000 child porn files on his home computer.

Sheppard did get a reprimand letter for the way he talked to a first grader back in 1999, but that was never seen by leaders who would later promote him.

"A whole interview team interviewed him and thought he was the best person for the job," Irwin said. "But we are working diligently to refine and tighten up our process so that nothing like this ever happens again."

Sheppard climbed the ranks from teacher to assistant principal and then principal.

News 6 asked Irwin on Tuesday if Sheppard should have been fired in 1999. She answered, "I don't know. If you were only to look at that reprimand, I would say most people would say 'yes.' But it's very difficult to second-guess what people did almost 20 years ago."

Before his arrest Friday, Sheppard had no criminal history so he passed a district background check in 2011.

Brevard Schools said it will continue the same background checks, but it will make changes elsewhere, such as creating a new digital system to organize countless old files of long-term employees such as Sheppard, who worked with Brevard Schools for 35 years.

"Somebody like Mr. Sheppard, who has worked here as long as he has, has a personnel file that's a couple inches thick. It's difficult for us at times to justify spending a lot of money on new software programs, but we know that it's something that needs to be done," Irwin said.

Along with more than 1,000 child porn files, a federal complaint used to arrest Sheppard said he also had pictures of his students on his home computers.

Investigators said the pictures look like they were pulled from a Spessard Holland Elementary school brochure.

Sheppard made his first appearance in court Friday, the day he was arrested. He's next scheduled to be in court Wednesday.

Since his arrest, he's been on paid administrative leave. That should change June 14, when Sheppard is expected to be formally fired at a school board meeting.

In addition to teaching, Sheppard worked as a part-time dispatcher for the Satellite Beach Police Department from 1980 to 2006. Before working for the school district, Sheppard worked for the Indialantic Police Department as a civilian specialist and for the county as a summer camp counselor in Indialantic from 1976-78, according to his Satellite Beach job application.

He graduated from Melbourne High School in 1975 before attending Brevard Community College and Rollins College.

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