FLORIDA: Sarasota County School Administration Answers Ours Questions — Sort of. Read on…

We recently asked the Superintendent of the Sarasota County Public Schools a series of questions about teachers lying to their students and using their classrooms to push a political agenda. We wanted to find out if the district ever took action against a teacher for violating either of these two key points: 1. lying to students and 2. pushing a particular political agenda(s) in their classrooms.

We noted that the Sarasota County Schools Employee Handbook states,

Employees shall refrain from participation in partisan politics on school property during the hours school is in session.

The Sarasota County Schools Employee Handbook also states,

Political literature shall not be distributed in schools or on school property.

We received answers to our questions from Assistant Superintendent Jody Dumas (see the answers below with references).

What we learned from Assistant Superintendent Dumas’ answers are the following:

  1. Florida’s Principles on Professional Conduct in Education require that educators must teach in “the pursuit of truth.”
  2. Florida’s Principles on Professional Conduct in Education require that teacher to “nurture of democratic citizenship.”
  3. That educators: “Shall not intentionally suppress or distort subject matter relevant to a student’s academic program.”
  4. That educators: “Shall maintain honesty in all professional dealings.”
  5. That educators: “Shall not intentionally distort or misrepresent facts concerning an educational matter in direct or indirect public expression.”
  6. That the primary objective of the school’s educational media center is: “to implement, enrich, and support the educational program of the school and the representation of different points of view.”
  7. That school media specialists: “the media center which places principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of materials of the highest quality…Materials that will stimulate growth in factual knowledge…Materials shall be considered based on the accuracy of the content.”
  8. That: “Each district school board must adopt a policy regarding an objection by a parent or a resident of the county to the use of a specific instructional material, which clearly describes a process to handle all objections and provides for resolution…must provide the parent or resident the opportunity to proffer evidence to the district school board.”
  9. And: “If the district school board finds that an instructional material does not meet the criteria under sub-subparagraph a. or that any other material contains prohibited content under sub-subparagraph b., the school district shall discontinue use of the material for any grade level or age group for which such use is inappropriate or unsuitable.”
  10. On the issue of responsibility for after school clubs/organizations we learned: “All clubs and organizations must be approved by the principle…Qualifications for membership shall be clearly stated in the club/organization by laws approved by the principal.”
  11. ZERO teachers, librarians or other school level staff have been fired or suspended for any of the above in the past 5 years lying to students or using, distributing or sharing political information in the classroom or media centers.

Given all of the above you would think that the Sarasota County School Board, the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, principles, district staff, teachers and media specialists are all squeaky clean but you would be wrong.

As they say is only takes one bad apple to spoil the whole barrel or in this case the Sarasota County School District.

We have come into possession of some disturbing people that the students at Pine View School a school for the gifted and rated as #6 Magnet school in America, have been exposed to via a program named PINC. In a December 20th, 2018 edition of the Pine View Student newspaper titled “The Torch” we found that this school hosted a man named Christiaan Triebert who works for the New York Times. Accoriding to Christiaan Triebert’s bio:

Christiaan Triebert is a journalist on the Visual Investigations team, which combines traditional reporting with open source methods to break news and hold the powerful to account.

[ … ]

He co-produced “Day of Rage,” one of the most complete pictures to date of what happened during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and why.

Here’s Triebert’s Day of Rage: How Trump Supporters Took the U.S. Capitol video:

So in December of 2019 the #6 Magnate School in the nation, Pine View, hosted a misinformation specialist. According to the answers we received from Assistant Superintendent Jody Dumas this event and all other PINC events had to have been approved by Dr. Stephen Covert, Pine Views’ Principal.

BTW, Triebert is also a contributor to Bellingcat which did a video titled “White Boy Summer, Nazi Memes and the Mainstreaming of White Supremacist Violence.” Hmmmmm.

But it doesn’t end there. In the same newsletter there was an article titled “The Torch analyzes vaping and its growing popularity” by Ben Gordon, Sci & Tech Editor. Really an article in a school newspaper on vaping?

Ben wrote:

Vaping has become so mainstream among teenagers and young adults in the United States that it was labeled an epidemic as of September 2018.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, roughly 2 million teenagers have said they have vaped or juuled at some point in their life.

What differentiates e-cigarettes from normal cigarettes is that while e-cigarettes heat liquid, they do not burn anything like cigarettes
or cigars. This means users are not exposed to the carbon monoxide and other toxins found in conventional cigarettes.

[ … ]

So what are the benefits of e-cigarettes? Some users explain that they can help you curb cigarette addiction. But, with e-cigarettes being somewhat new technology, it would be incorrect to assume that the benefits outweigh the risks without proper research supporting that claim.

Although e-cigarettes may help current smokers quit using tobacco, they also cause younger people to begin smoking and spark a nicotine addiction. Viewing the new technology as a way to sustain their business, big tobacco is investing in advertisement towards young people. This effectively causes a new epidemic of addictions to nicotine, and should be avoided at whatever costs necessary.

Sounds like Ben and Pine View are all into promoting vaping or julling doesn’t it?

Finally The Torch published an article titled “Go Green goes the extra degree with environmental outreach efforts on campus” by by Tricia Saputera, News Editor. Tricia wrote:

Pine View’s environmental club, Go Green, has recently taken strides to expand their club and to educate fellow students on the
simple ways they can help the environment. Within the past two months, they have conducted a cleanup, taught elementary
students and invited guest speakers to further education efforts.

[ … ]

The club additionally invited three members of the Florida Conservation Corps as guest speakers Dec. 10 to speak to the club. With a mission “to develop natural and cultural resource leaders by connecting them to areas of critical need in conservation, preservation, interpretation and resource based recreation,” as stated on their website, the Florida Conservation Corps discussed the harmful effects of invasive species.

The 24-year-old Florida Conservation Corps (FLCC) AmeriCorps program is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Which is good. But when Pine View’s Environmental Club wants student to “Go Green” it sounds very much like the current administrations efforts to fully implement the Green New Deal.

We continue to be concerned that what happened in 2019 is happening today not only in Pine View but across the district. We have received another lead about a student questionnaire sent home that has politically motivated questions on it. We will publish another column with our findings.

©Dr. Rich Swier, Ed.D. All rights reserved.

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QUESTIONS SUBMITTED TO THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SARASOTA COUNTY SCHOOLS ON MAY 4TH, 2022 WITH ANSWERS:

Question: The word refrain is defined as “stop oneself from doing something.” Who is ensuring teachers, school staff and administrations are refraining?

Answer: Each employee has a reporting structure. Compliance with policy is an expectation of all employees and is monitored by their supervisor.

Question: What action is taken if these individuals don’t refrain?

Answer: See classified and instructional bargaining agreements posted on our website under Human Resources.  These contracts outline our discipline process when employees violate policy.

Question: What is the policy on teachers lying to their students?

Answer: There is not policy but teachers are guided by the code of professional conduct as defined by the State of Florida.

The Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida states,

(1) Florida educators shall be guided by the following ethical principles:

(a) The educator values the worth and dignity of every person, the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, acquisition of knowledge, and the nurture of democratic citizenship. Essential to the achievement of these standards are the freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal opportunity for all.

(a) Obligation to the student requires that the individual:

4. Shall not intentionally suppress or distort subject matter relevant to a student’s academic program.

8. Shall not exploit a relationship with a student for personal gain or advantage.

(c) Obligation to the profession of education requires that the individual:

1. Shall maintain honesty in all professional dealings.

2. Shall not intentionally distort or misrepresent facts concerning an educational matter in direct or indirect public expression.

Question: What is the policy on teachers teaching a political agenda in the classroom?

Answer: Teachers are required to stick to the curriculum and standards for the classes they are teaching as outlined by the Florida DOE.

Question: What is the policy on librarians and teachers obtaining recommending or using pornographic materials or age inappropriate material in libraries and the classroom?

Answer: School Board policy 4.22

EDUCATIONAL MEDIA MATERIALS SELECTION 4.22 states,

I. Objectives of Selection – The primary objective of the school’s educational media center is to implement, enrich, and support the educational program of the school.

The center shall provide a wide range of materials on all levels of difficulty, with diversity of appeal, and the representation of different points of view. The School Board asserts that the responsibility of the media center is to provide:

A. Materials that will enrich and support the curriculum, taking into consideration the varied interest, abilities, and maturity levels of the students served.
B. Materials that will stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values, and ethical standards.
C. A background of information enabling students to make intelligent judgments in their daily life.
D. Materials representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and their contributions to the American heritage.
E. A comprehensive collection appropriate for the users of the media center which places principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of materials of the highest quality.
F. Provide materials on opposing sides of controversial issues in order that young citizens may develop, under guidance, the practice of critical analysis of all media.
II. Criteria for Selection of Educational Materials

A. The standards to determine the propriety of the educational materials shall be pursuant to Florida Statutes.
B. First consideration shall be given to the needs of the individual school based on knowledge of the curriculum, of the existing collection, and of the needs of children and youth. Requests from users of the collection, i.e., administrators, faculty, parents, and students shall be given high priority.
C. Materials shall be considered based on the accuracy of the content, overall purpose, timeliness, importance of the subject matter, quality of the writing/production, readability and popular appeal, authoritativeness, comprehensiveness of material, reputation of the publisher/producer, reputation and significance of the author/artist/composer/producer, format and price.

CHAPTER 4.00 – CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION

D. Gifts of media or money shall be accepted with the understanding that their use or disposition shall be determined by those persons having the responsibility for acquisitions, according to the same selection criteria and procedures as purchased materials.

III. Procedures for Selection

A. In selecting materials for purchase, the school media specialist or designee shall evaluate the existing collection and shall consult with:

1. Reputable, unbiased, professionally prepared selection aids such as those published by the American Library Association and other reputable publishing companies generally accepted by the educational media profession.
2. Media staff, curriculum consultants, faculty, students, and community representatives.
3. Media committee appointed by the principal to serve in an advisory capacity in the selection of materials.
B. In specific areas, the media specialist shall follow these procedures.
1. Purchase multiple copies of outstanding and frequently used materials;
2. Replace periodically worn or missing basic items; and
3. Withdraw out-of-date or unnecessary items from the collection.

Question: What is the policy on librarians ordering pornographic or age inappropriate materials?

Answer: Same as above

Question: What is the policy on suspending or firing teachers for doing any of the above?

Answer: See Instructional contract language.

Question: What is the policy of suspending or firing librarians for doing any of the above?

Answer: See Classified contract language.

Question: How many teachers, librarians or other school level staff have been fired or suspended for any of the above in the past 5 years?

Answer: Zero

Question: What is the role of the school principal and superintendent in supervising these activities and where can I find them in School policies?

Answer: Florida Statute 1006.28 guides instructional materials oversite

Florida Statute 1006.28 states,

1. Each district school board is responsible for the content of all instructional materials and any other materials used in a classroom, made available in a school library, or included on a reading list, whether adopted and purchased from the state-adopted instructional materials list, adopted and purchased through a district instructional materials program under s. 1006.283, or otherwise purchased or made available. Each district school board shall maintain on its website a current list of instructional materials, by grade level, purchased by the district.

2. Each district school board must adopt a policy regarding an objection by a parent or a resident of the county to the use of a specific instructional material, which clearly describes a process to handle all objections and provides for resolution. The process must provide the parent or resident the opportunity to proffer evidence to the district school board that:

a. An instructional material does not meet the criteria of s. 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d) if it was selected for use in a course or otherwise made available to students in the school district but was not subject to the public notice, review, comment, and hearing procedures under s. 1006.283(2)(b)8., 9., and 11.
b. Any material used in a classroom, made available in a school library, or included on a reading list contains content that is pornographic or prohibited under s. 847.012, is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used.

Question: Who specifically is responsible for policing the use of age inappropriate or pornographic materials in schools and libraries?

Answer: See Florida Statute 1006.28

Florida Statute 1006.28 states,

If the district school board finds that an instructional material does not meet the criteria under sub-subparagraph a. or that any other material contains prohibited content under sub-subparagraph b., the school district shall discontinue use of the material for any grade level or age group for which such use is inappropriate or unsuitable.

3. Each district school board must establish a process by which the parent of a public school student or a resident of the county may contest the district school board’s adoption of a specific instructional material. The parent or resident must file a petition, on a form provided by the school board, within 30 calendar days after the adoption of the material by the school board. The school board must make the form available to the public and publish the form on the school district’s website. The form must be signed by the parent or resident, include the required contact information, and state the objection to the instructional material based on the criteria of s. 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d). Within 30 days after the 30-day period has expired, the school board must, for all petitions timely received, conduct at least one open public hearing before an unbiased and qualified hearing officer. The hearing officer may not be an employee or agent of the school district. The hearing is not subject to the provisions of chapter 120; however, the hearing must provide sufficient procedural protections to allow each petitioner an adequate and fair opportunity to be heard and present evidence to the hearing officer.

Question: Has the School Board or any school hosted an “Anti-Racism Fight Club” presentation by Doyin Richards?

Answer: Not able to answer at this time.

Question: Does the district have in its classrooms or libraries the Fist Book?

Answer: No

Question: What after school clubs  approved by staff, are promoting political agendas?

Answer: Clubs are student driven and must comply with School Board Policy 4.5

School Board Policy 4.5 Student Clubs and Organizations states,

PROCEDURE:

(1) All clubs and organizations must be approved by the principle before they can operate within a school, and must comply with the following procedures:

(a) membership in clubs and organizations shall be available to all students who qualify. Qualifications for membership shall be clearly stated in the club/organization by laws approved by the principal.

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