Collier school officials defend district's handling of Hector Manley child molestation case

Collier County School District officials are defending the district's handling of a sex abuse case that has engulfed an East Naples elementary school.

Former Parkside Elementary School teacher Hector Manley, who taught first grade last year and has worked in classrooms throughout the school, faces 23 charges of molesting children as young as 6 years old during his three-year tenure at the school. The case involves 20 children. Manley was fired after his arrest March 1 and is being held in the Naples Jail Center pending trial.

At Collier County's school board meeting Tuesday, school board members did not make any public comment on the case.

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A parent and child walk home after school at Parkside Elementary School in Naples on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Hector Manley, a former Parkside Elementary School teacher, has been accused of 20 counts of lewd and lascivious molestation and two counts of capital sexual battery against someone younger than 12. Children told investigators that Manley touched them inappropriately at school and at soccer practice, where he was a coach for a local team.

The Naples Daily News interviewed available school board members and Superintendent Kamela Patton about the case, the state of Parkside Elementary School and parents' concerns about a lack of district communication about the situation. 

Patton said she would not comment on something that could impede an ongoing investigation.

Instead, she said schools, like Parkside, have to “keep moving forward” even after bad situations. 

Watch:5 things to know about the Hector Manley case

More:Twentieth child accuses former Parkside Elementary teacher of molestation

Patton declined further comment on Parkside and Manley’s sex abuse case citing the Collier County Sheriff’s Office open investigation. 

Parkside Principal Melanie Fike, who started as principal this school year, canceled a scheduled interview for Tuesday and referred questions to the district's communications office. 

School board member Jory Westberry left Tuesday’s school board meeting before she could be questioned about Parkside Elementary School and CCSO’s investigation. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Westberry, whose district includes Parkside, said in a previous interview at another board meeting that she was unaware that parents were concerned about communication surrounding Manley’s case and changes in school leadership.

“It’s a tragic circumstance, but I think that the school district has moved in positive ways by changing the principals,” Westberry said in a previous interview.

'It's not right':Parents frustrated with Collier schools' communication about ex-Parkside teacher accused of molesting 20 children

School board member Stephanie Lucarelli said after Tuesday's meeting that the district has done a good job balancing when to release information and when not to comment.

“I guess I can understand that people always want more information anyway and there’s a hard line in figuring out what’s appropriate and what’s not,” Lucarelli said. 

Citing the active investigation, Lucarelli would not comment on Manley other than to point out he's no longer on the school staff.

“I don’t feel like that issue needs to necessarily continue to be communicated to people that weren’t directly affected,” she said.

School board member Jen Mitchell also had no comment about the Manley case, saying she would never say or do anything that may impede the ongoing investigation.

"We need to let CCSO do what they need to do,"  Mitchell said after Tuesday's meeting. 

She also pointed out that the school board immediately voted to fire Manley after his arrest.

More:Parkside Elementary elects school advisory council; sex abuse case not discussed

School board member Erick Carter also had no comment and cited the sheriff's office investigation.

Carter said he had not read a story by the Naples Daily News that highlighted Parkside parents' concerns about how the district handled communication to them after Manley's arrest.

School board chair Roy Terry could not be reached for comment. He attended Tuesday’s school board meeting via phone.