49 F
Indianapolis
Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Hypnotist principal faces questions after suicide

More by this author

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) — High school principal George Kenney

acknowledged using hypnosis to help people: students who needed to

relax before tests, a basketball player having trouble making free

throws and even school secretaries who wanted to quit

smoking.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

But now the popular 51-year-old principal’s future at North Port

High School is in question since it came to light that he had

hypnotized two students before their separate suicides this spring.

There is no indication their deaths were any more than a tragic

coincidence. However, Kenney acknowledged conducting the sessions

after being warned by his boss to stop such one-on-one hypnosis

with students at school.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Most students, teachers and fellow administrators at the southwest

Florida school were aware that Kenney was a trained hypnotist who

would eagerly help those who sought him out for sessions, according

to a school district report. Students looked forward to his

demonstrations in a psychology class and at other school

events.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

In April, according to the Sarasota County School District report,

he hypnotized a 16-year-old student to help him better focus on a

test. The next day, the boy committed suicide. Kenney was put on

leave in May when the boy’s parents, who had given their permission

for the sessions, raised concerns after his death.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

The administrator’s situation then got stickier when an

investigation showed that he had also hypnotized another student

five months before her May 4 suicide, initially lied about it and

had defied three separate verbal warnings to stop the sessions with

students.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

A 134-page independent investigative report released by the

district last week includes an interview with Kenney, who

acknowledged defying the orders and then lying.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

“I’m not saying I used great judgment all the time here,” he told

an investigator. “I think I used poor judgment several

times.”

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

But the report also reflects the support and affection Kenney

enjoys at the 2,300-student high school, about 90 miles south of

Tampa. Two Facebook pages, one with more than 1,600 fans, have been

created to support Kenney, principal of North Port High since its

opening in 2001. Some students who were hypnotized say it helped

them with sports and academics.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Many students and staff credit him with guiding the school through

a time of grief. In March, before the two suicides, a 16-year-old

football player was killed in a car crash, which followed the

traffic death of a teacher killed driving to school in

November.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Kenney is the “glue that just holds the school together,” said his

administrative assistant, Dianna McLaren.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Kenney declined to comment through his attorney, Mark Zimmerman,

who said there is no “causal connection” between the hypnosis

sessions and the suicides. Both students had sought Kenney’s help

with test anxiety and had signed permission slips from their

parents, Zimmerman said. In the case of student Brittany Palumbo,

her mother was present during the session.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

“It sort of conjures up a feeling of mind control, which of course

is not what hypnosis is,” Zimmerman said. “This was hypnosis as a

relaxation and focus technique to aid in test and athletic

performance.”

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Zimmerman said Kenney initially misspoke when he told an

administrator that he had not had a session with Palumbo, and never

intended to hide it.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Kenney was more than a hobbyist when it came to hypnosis. He wrote

four books about using hypnosis in defeating test anxiety and

mastering baseball and basketball skills. He trained at a Florida

hypnosis center and was a member of the National Guild of

Hypnotists and the National Board of Hypnosis Education and

Certification. He told investigators he has worked with around 36

students – with parental permission – in the past couple years,

mostly on test anxiety, athletic performance and anger management.

He also worked with several of the school’s sports teams, staff

members and their families.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

“Dr. Kenney isn’t doing any hocus-pocus,” Ann Brandenberger, a

psychology teacher at the high school, told an investigator. “That

is just what this has been blown into.”

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

According to the report, Kenney would have people close their eyes

and visualize something serene as he talked them into a state of

“deep relaxation,” then would suggest to them that they will feel

calm and focused before a test, sporting event or other

activity.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Gerald Kein, director of the National Board of Hypnosis Education

and Certification, described hypnosis as “bypassing the critical

factor of the conscious mind,” creating an “open-mindedness” to new

ideas.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Kein said that to his knowledge Kenney didn’t violate any of the

board’s rules about treating children. Rules call for written

permission from parents and urge parental involvement in the

sessions. Kein said a hypnotist shouldn’t work with anyone who

clearly needs help from a licensed medical professional. Kenney

said he had no indication that either student who later committed

suicide was suffering from mental illness.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

“I think the whole thing is ludicrous. I think it’s ridiculous,”

said Kein, who is also director of the Omni Hypnosis Training

Center in DeLand, Fla., one of the places where Kenney trained.

“From what I understand, he just worked on motivation with these

young people, motivation and test anxiety and allowing them to be

the very best they can.”

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

School district spokesman Gary Leatherman said school officials

will wait to see whether the North Port police decide to prosecute

Kenney under a decades-old state law that requires a doctor’s

reference for hypnosis as therapy. After that, the district

superintendent will decide what, if any, punishment he should

receive.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px;”>

Kenney’s attorney said he’s working in the school district offices

pending the outcome of the investigation and looks forward to

getting back to his post at the high school.

“font-family: Verdana, Times, serif; font-size: 12px; text-decoration: none; line-height: 13px; color: #000000; font: normal normal normal 12px/normal verdana, helvetica, arial;”>

“text-decoration: none; color: #000066;” rel=”item-license” name=

“ab632cdb-4b1b-404b-a4f5-2aa54c745115” href=

“http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_HYPNOTIST_PRINCIPAL?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-07-10-17-08-06#ab632cdb-4b1b-404b-a4f5-2aa54c745115″>

© 2011 The

Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material

may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or

redistributed. Learn more about our

“text-decoration: none; color: #000066;” href=

“http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/privacy”>Privacy

Policy and 

href=”http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/terms”>Terms of Use.

- Advertisement -

Upcoming Online Townhalls

- Advertisement -

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest local news.

Stay connected

16,331FansLike
3,142FollowersFollow
6,343FollowersFollow
14SubscribersSubscribe

Related articles

Popular articles

Español + Translate »
Skip to content