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School Bans Founder Over 24-Year-Old Pot Arrest

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
The founder of a Central Florida charter school can no longer be on campus or have contact with students because of a 24-year-old felony conviction for conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana.

The Brevard County School Board last week demanded that Einstein Montessori's founder Zach Osbrach, 53, cease contact with students and keep away from the Cocoa campus or the school will risk losing its charter, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.

State law prohibits anyone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude to serve in a position that requires contact with students. Several school districts, including Brevard, consider drug distribution a crime involving moral turpitude.

Osbrach opened the school in 2003 and has worked on campus as its director since. Although they've known about Osbrach's conviction since 2004, district officials said they allowed him to continue in the position because the school assured them that Osbrach had no contact with children.

Through recent site visits and interviews, district officials discovered otherwise.

At the school board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Richard DiPatri said Osbrach violated the law, and the school broke its commitment to the district "numerous times."

"I didn't have a private investigator checking on it," DiPatri said. "I assumed when they assured us he was not in contact with students that was the case."

Einstein is one of 13 charter schools in the district. It opened in 2003 and serves 109 students with dyslexia in grades three through eight.

Last Friday, the school's board of directors met in an emergency meeting and agreed that Osbrach would no longer be allowed on campus when students are present, board Chairman Tom Keon said. Osbrach will remain as the school's director, conducting business at home.

Einstein's board also agreed to make other changes, including setting student achievement goals using Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test data, which was recommended by the district in order for its charter to be renewed. The school board will vote at its March 13 meeting on whether to renew Einstein's charter, which expires this summer.

"We're trying to show that we're trying to be as close in compliance with their requests as possible," said Keon, dean of the college of business administration at the University of Central Florida, whose child attends Einstein.

Osbrach, who is dyslexic, said he is "devastated" that he can no longer be near the students he's trying to help. He said he is guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. On one occasion in 1978, Osbrach said, he was with a childhood friend when his friend "was doing a marijuana deal." Five years later, Osbrach said, despite his innocence, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana to avoid jail time. He was sentenced to two years of probation.

"I never sold marijuana. I never distributed marijuana. I took no part in the situation," Osbrach said. "I was with him when he was involved. I shouldn't have been with him."

Osbrach said he "never expected these charges to affect me in this way." He doesn't think he should be barred from helping students for something that happened two dozen years ago.

"I've spent the last 10 years of my life doing nothing but helping children with dyslexia," said Osbrach, who has two grown children and a 7-year-old son. "I really feel like I've been a good person. I've helped the kids, and they can't take that away from me."

But school board attorney Harold Bistline said it doesn't matter how long ago Osbrach was convicted or that he has had a clean record ever since.

"The statute we're dealing with here doesn't have any qualifications to it, doesn't have any timeline to it, and in my opinion, it doesn't have any room for interpretation or waiver," he said.

According to state Department of Education officials, however, school districts can offer forgiveness to convicted felons in situations like this.

Osbrach said he'll stay off the campus for now. He hopes to take the issue to court. He believes the school district has a "vendetta" against him and is acting in retaliation for recent challenges he made regarding their funding process and charter control.

Pam Juhr, Einstein's vice principal, said if the district closes the school, "it will be the students who are hurt."

"I think we do a very good job with our students, and I know most of our students are very, very happy here," she said. "I think this has gotten blown way out of proportion."

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