George Kenney, principal who hypnotized students, says he did not step over the line

6:28 PM, Jul 19, 2011   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida - The principal of North Port High School is fighting to keep his job after being put on administrative leave in May.

Dr. George Kenney was suspended for using hypnotherapy on students to help improve academic and athletic performance, even though each time he had parental permission.

"I don't think I stepped over the line," Kenney told an investigator with the Sarasota school district.  

The report shows the investigators interviewed 35 people, from district supervisors to school staff and students. According to the report, Kenney, a trained hypnotherapist, believes in the practice.  

"This was a tool I saw value in, that I saw the students making very positive steps forward. And I think at least with a couple of them, it was a life changing thing, and I see the merit in it... and it was working."

Cody Wright says six hypnosis sessions with Kenney helped his high jump. "It calmed me down, helped me focus more on my jump," says Wright.

But a school district administrator reportedly told Kenney two years ago not to use hypnosis on students. According to the investigator's report, Kenney said his boss never said, "Do not do this."

Kenney told the investigators there was no memo, email or meeting with his supervisor.

Kenny's lawyer Mark Zimmerman says the supervisor was never clear. "There was conversation. There was some expressed concern. To say it was absolutely clear? No, it was not absolutely clear."

Kenney told the investigator he never sought out students.

"Quite the opposite, the students were seeking him out. It was very well known at the school that he was offering these hypnosis sessions," explains Zimmerman.

Kenney does admit his passion to help students got in the way. He says, "I'm not saying I used great judgment all the time here. I think I used poor judgment several times."

Kenney hopes to return to his old job as principal of North Port High, and this time his attorney says the district's instructions are clear.

"Now that the directive of his employer is crystal clear, were he to continue with hypnosis, that would obviously be stepping over the line."

Sarasota school district officials say they will wait for a criminal investigation against Kenney to be completed before deciding on any disciplinary action.

North Port Police is looking into allegations Kenney's hypnosis was therapeutic: a violation of Florida licensing law and a second degree misdemeanor.

Meanwhile, Kenney is working at the district office.

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Isabel Mascarenas

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