I... I just... what the hell. I started this evening pitying Florida because their state government has cheated them out of voting for the past couple elections, and kept them from having a voice in national politics. But uh... I'm beginning to see how idiots like that get elected.
Published: May 5, 2008
LAND O' LAKES - The telephone call that spelled the end of Jim Piculas' career as a substitute teacher in Pasco came on a January day about a week after he performed the disappearing-toothpick trick for a group of rapt middle school students.
Pat Sinclair, who oversees substitute teachers in the Pasco County School District, was on the phone. She told Piculas there had been a complaint about his performance at Rushe Middle School in Land O' Lakes.
He asked what she meant.
"She said, 'You've been accused of wizardry,'
" Piculas said.
He said the statement seemed bizarre to him, like something out of Harry Potter.
Piculas said he replied, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
He said he also told Sinclair, "It's not black magic. It's a toothpick."
The school district puts a somewhat different spin on the disappearing-toothpick incident.
Performing a magic trick at Rushe Middle is just one of the reasons the school district gives for dumping Piculas from the substitute-teacher list. The others are: Piculas did not follow the lesson plans, he allowed students on computers even though another teacher said not to, and he told the fifth-period student peer that she was in charge.
Piculas said those other reasons are just window dressing. He said he believes it all comes down to the disappearing-toothpick trick and a student who may have interpreted the trick as wizardry.
The trick requires a toothpick and transparent tape. A sleight-of-hand maneuver causes the toothpick to disappear then reappear. At least, so it seems. In reality, the toothpick hides behind the performer's thumb, held in place by the tape.
"The whole thing lasted 45 seconds," Piculas said.
He said the students liked the trick. He showed them how to do it so they could perform it at home.
One student in the Rushe Middle class apparently took the trick the wrong way, Piculas said. He said he was told the student became so traumatized that the student's father complained.
Sinclair wrote Piculas a letter, date Jan. 28, to say the district would "no longer be using your services." The letter mentioned magic tricks at the end of the list of other classroom offenses he is accused of committing.
The word "wizardry" does not appear in the letter.
"I think she was trying to downplay it because it sounded so goofy," Piculas said.
Piculas said he has tried to get a hearing before Superintendent Heather Fiorentino with no luck.
He tried to enlist the assistance of U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, whose office forwarded his complaint to Fiorentino, but that effort reached a dead-end because the federal government has no say over who the school district hires as a substitute teacher.
He said he also sought assistance from United School Employees of Pasco, only to learn that substitute teachers aren't covered by the union contract.
Piculas had worked as a substitute teacher for eight or nine months, spending time at 15 schools. He said he also was working toward teacher certification with the dream of being hired full time.
That appears unlikely now. Piculas said he tried to apply for a job as a GED instructor and wasn't allowed to interview.
"My whole career is in limbo," he said.