A Florida high school principal lied about having hypnotized a student who committed suicide and another who died in a car crash, a school district investigation has revealed.
George Kenney, 51, former principal of North Port High School in Sarasota, admitted to hypnotizing as many as 75 people -- students, parents and staff -- at the school and to defying orders to only use hypnosis in psychology class and with parental permission.
His use of the practice, widely known at the school, came under scrutiny after Kenney acknowledged he had hypnotized Wesley McKinley , 16, the day before the teenager killed himself in April.
But he had denied using the technique on Brittany Palumbo, 16, who killed herself May 4, or Marcus Freeman, 16, a star quarterback on the high school team, who died in a car crash March 15.
"Dr. Kenney admitted that he lied … and he admitted that he did have sessions with both of the other deceased students," according to the report by Steele Investigations Agency, released this week.
In his interview with the investigators, Kenney, a popular principal at the school since 2001, said he felt terrible about "putting his school and his students through something that they didn’t need or deserve to have to endure on top of all the tragedy they already have experienced" and started to cry, the report says.
Kenney is on leave and is assigned to an administrative job while a police investigation proceeds. Scott Ferguson, a spokesman for Sarasota schools, said the district would not be commenting on the internal investigation while the police probe is ongoing.
Mark Zimmerman, who is Kenney’s lawyer, said no one has alleged that there is a link between the hypnosis of the three students and their deaths. "Dr. Kenney had no indications that these were students who would take their own lives," he said in reference to Wesley McKinley and Brittany Palumbo.
He had used hypnosis to help the two students with text anxiety, Zimmerman said, and had an individual session with Brittany, with a parent present. "It is a coincidence that of the many students he was working with, two had other things going on in their lives."
Kenney helped Freeman with stress and anxiety about sports performance, Zimmerman said.
Kenney, who learned hypnosis at the Omni Hypnosis Training Center in DeLand, Fla., had made podcasts on reducing test anxiety and improving sports performance through hypnosis. He told investigators that his passion for helping students overcame his good judgment.
"He was only trying to help students be more successful and overcome some of the barriers," the report states. In his view, "he may have pushed the envelope, ’but I don’t think I’ve stepped over the line.’"
Kenney faces possible criminal charges under a rarely used Florida law that bars "therapeutic hypnosis" unless it is monitored by a medical professional.
But attorney Zimmerman said the law was "vague" and added, "Hypnosis isn’t illegal. What it is is controversial."
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