For years, Barry Grace was a revered third-grade teacher at Indian Pines Elementary. Kindly, grandfatherly, the “angel-in-charge,” as The Palm Beach Post described him more than a decade ago.
White-haired and balding, Grace embraced the saintly characterization. “Why do you think I don’t have any hair up there?” he once quipped to a reporter. “The halo keeps rubbing it off.” In 2005, he won one of Palm Beach County’s top teaching honors — the prestigious William T. Dwyer Award for Excellence for elementary education.
By summer 2012, he had retired quietly from the elementary school west of Lantana. But five years later, allegations of his behavior during his final years there have become public for the first time: multiple allegations of inappropriate interactions with his young female students, according to state teacher disciplinary documents.
In 2010 and 2011, state records show the school district investigated complaints about him and young students. State officials say he took girls to the movies, out to eat and shopping without other adults present. He drove them, without written parental permission, in his car from school.
In February 2011, when he was 68, the school district reprimanded him for giving a female student $100 and for helping a student get a belly button ring without her parents’ knowledge, newly released state records show.
Then in 2013, a year after his retirement, there came an even more troubling claim: A student at Indian Pines Elementary told police that, two years earlier, Grace had fondled her twice when they were alone in his third-grade classroom.
The girl had come forward after learning in a fifth-grade class about the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, a police report shows.
After the discussion, the girl passed a written note to the teacher: “What if it’s an adult touching you but it’s a very good friend of yours?”
Questioned first by the teacher and later by school district police, the girl said that in third grade, when Grace was her teacher, he had twice asked her to stay behind after class to help put books away.
After straightening up the books, the girl said Grace came up and hugged her from behind, running his hands up and down the front of her body and squeezing her chest, the report stated.
The detective assigned to the case tried to question Grace but could not reach him by phone or certified letter. Unable to interview him, the officer dropped the case, records show.
In December 2013, the school district sent Grace a letter warning that the case would be reopened if he ever tried to teach again in a county school.
Grace, who could not be reached for comment, was never arrested or charged with a crime, and records indicate the allegations were never made public or pursued further.
But nearly five years after his retirement, the allegations were cited as evidence last week by the state’s Education Practices Commission as it moved to bar the retired educator, now 74, from teaching again, revoking his teaching license for five years.
The veteran teacher had spent decades in the county’s elementary schools, teaching at S.D. Spady Elementary in Delray Beach before Indian Pines.
Over the years, he had earned accolades for his approach to teaching new math concepts to students: having students volunteer to teach to their peers. In an interview with The Post in 2005, he said he once founded a school in Peru and helped to support it by sending supplies, clothing and food.
Even in retirement, he is still revered. In January, a former student sent him birthday greetings on Facebook. “Happy Birthday to my favorite and most influential teacher,” he wrote. “If it wasn’t for you and your words of encouragement, I would never have believed in myself enough to go to college.”
But invited by the state commission to offer a defense, he declined to respond.
“The commission finds that (Grace) was properly served with the administrative complaint, has failed to respond timely, and has waived any right to be heard,” the report stated.