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Lakeland teacher accused of sending sexual messages to 2 students, groping one

He was arrested for lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor, among other charges. He has since been fired.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — A Lakeland history teacher was arrested after authorities say he inappropriately contacted two female students and groped at least one of them.

Derek Stribling, 39, taught at Crossroads Christian School. He was arrested Thursday night at his home, just hours after detectives say they learned he'd sent explicit texts to a 14-year-old girl and another student over 18.

Detectives say the older student told them Stribling asked for her phone number on Valentine's Day. He reportedly told her he could check up on her following an argument she had with her dad, investigators said.

"Stribling told the victim that she had a 'D' in his class, and she could get extra credit to help her grades," the sheriff's office wrote in an email. "He initiated a sexual conversation via text and on the FaceTime app."

The sheriff's office said Stribling then showed his private parts to the student while he was pleasuring himself.

"On another occasion, Stribling tried unsuccessfully to get the victim to meet him in a hotel parking lot for oral sex, but she refused," the sheriff's office wrote.

Investigators say the younger student recounted how Stribling asked to meet her in the gym's equipment closet while he was her basketball coach.

"The victim said that Stribling began kissing her while rubbing her breast and buttocks over her clothing. She also reported that he began communicating with her via the Snapchat app and text messaging, and he called her twice via video chat in which he showed himself masturbating," the sheriff's office wrote.

According to law enforcement, she said Stribling tried more than once to get her to meet him to molest her, but she refused.

"For a 39-year-old married deviant to do this to two teens is horrible as it
is, but when you add in that he's a teacher doing this to his students – it
infuriates me. Most teachers do everything they can to protect their students,
but this guy was the complete opposite," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd wrote in a statement.

"He preyed on them for his own sick desires, and he should never be allowed to be near children again," Judd added.

Stribling was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor, lewd/lascivious conduct, offenses against students by an authority figure and transmitting material harmful to a minor.

The sheriff's office said Stribling served as a teacher, dean and coach at the campus. 10 Tampa Bay reached out to Children's Educational Services, which runs the school. 

CES President Rich Wead confirmed Stribling was fired Friday morning after having worked at the school since August 2019. Wead said the allegations against Stribling represented a clear violation of the school's code of conduct.

"All employees of CES are thoroughly vetted and complete a FDLE Level II background screening prior to employment," Wead wrote in a statement. "We take these allegations very seriously and reported them to the appropriate authorities immediately after we were notified."

Wead said the school was saddened by the accusations.

"In order to protect the privacy of our students and their families, and maintain the integrity of the ongoing investigation, we are unable to provide further details at this time," he added.

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