Palm Bay school band director on leave over harassment claims

J. Bernard Wilkins accused of making sexual comment to student

PALM BAY, Fla. - The Heritage High School band director is on paid leave while Brevard school officials investigate allegations that he harassed students, including making comments that at times turned sexual.

Local 6 News partner Florida Today reports that more than 20 students and parents from Heritage High attended Tuesday night's school board meeting to voice their support for J. Bernard Wilkins, saying the accusations are false.

"We take any allegations seriously and have been thoroughly investigating all concerns brought to our attention," Brevard Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said.

A Palm Bay police report dated Oct. 16 said that investigators looked into the allegations but did not find evidence to support criminal charges and closed their case.

Brevard school district leaders have met with band parents and appointed an interim band director as the district's internal investigation continues.

According to the police report, Wilkins allegedly told a female student a "blouse flattered her" chest and that her breasts were developing quickly. He also allegedly disciplined his students excessively, such as having the whole band do physical training after a few students forgot their gear, the investigation report said.

"We understand that parents and students have developed close working relationships with Mr. Wilkins and we are cognizant of their concerns," Irwin said. "However, we will focus on doing what we believe is in the best interest of all students."

The issue has divided students at the Palm Bay school.

"I don't see what's wrong with a grownup telling a student to wear a sports bra," student Xiomara Favela said, explaining the athletic nature of a high school band.

Students told Brevard School Board members that Wilkins was like a father figure, encouraging them to do their best in band -- and in life.

"People are portraying him as something he is not," student Jeanevone Dorvil said. "He has not only built a band, but a family."

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