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Teacher’s lesson denied School Board remains silent to a dire warning
Before the appointment of a new Levy County School Board chairman and vice chairman, the order of seating shown here is (from left) School Board Attorney David Delaney, and School Board members Cameron Asbell, Chris Cowart, Paige Brookins, Vice Chairman Rick Turner, Chairman Robert Philpot and Superintendent Bob Hastings.
After the appointment of a new Levy County School Board chairman and vice chairman, the order of seating shown here is (from left) School Board Attorney David Delaney, and School Board members Robert Philpot, Cameron Asbell, Chris Cowart, Vice Chairman Paige Brookins, Chairman Rick Turner and Superintendent of Schools Bob Hastings.
Jerry Lawrence said it is his belief that the poor academic performance of schools in the Levy County School District results in part from teachers working in an environment where there is “a culture of intimidation and fear of retaliation." Lawrence said he also sees "widespread perception that favoritism runs rampant in our profession" in Levy County.
Teacher Jerry Lawrence presents his opinion that a culture of intimidation and fear of retaliation exists in the Levy County School District. Pam Morrison, secretary to Superintendent of Schools Bob Hastings, is seated to the left in this photo.
The length of the 15-minute presentation Tuesday was the first sign that Lawrence's stated beliefs might be correct. Superintendent of Schools Robert O. "Bob" Hastings cut Lawrence's available time from a requested 30-minute presentation to half that. Turner, who had moments earlier accepted the duties of chairman of the board from former School Board Chairman Robert Philpot, also let the teacher know the limits he wanted imposed remain intact. Each year after the election, a new chairman is selected on the School Board.
Paige Brookins won a unanimous vote to be vice chairman. Turner was critical of Lawrence for allegedly not following "the chain of command" to bring a complaint to the School Board. Turner told Lawrence that the teacher would not lose his CMHS teaching job over his making the presentation, but that Lawrence must never again go directly to Hastings. Lawrence told Turner that if he wanted to, he would knock on Hastings' door again and if Hastings was willing to discuss matters then that is what would happen. Lawrence also expressed his displeasure with what he saw as an implied threat against his employment by the School Board's chairman. LIMITED PRESENTATION Turner said during the public comment period of the regular meeting, the School Board sets the discussion to be a reasonable amount of time. In regard to Lawrence's request, it was set at 15 minutes. Lawrence said he had submitted a request for this matter to be listed on the agenda, rather than just as a part of the public comments section of the meeting. He had asked Hastings for 30 minutes to speak about the "culture of intimidation and fear of retaliation" that exists for employees in the Levy County School District and how this undercurrent of tyranny may be at the core of relatively low to mediocre rankings in academics. Lawrence asked the School Board as a whole for 30 minutes to present rather than just 15 minutes. Levy County School Board Attorney David Delaney said the School Board policy provides for a person to speak for a reasonable time. The superintendent of schools creates the agenda, Delaney said. "So, there is nothing to require the superintendent to accept a request to be put on the agenda," Delaney said. "And then it is up to the (School) Board's discretion, guided by the chairman, to decide how much time to give someone to speak during the public comment period." Turner then reminded Lawrence that his 15-minute limit had been ruled by Turner as "reasonable" and that the clock was ticking even as the teacher spoke about the imposed limit. Lawrence said he wondered about “the worth and dignity of every person” as well as “the pursuit of truth and the acquisition of knowledge” being hampered by limiting his presentation of his opinion. With that, he presented “The Code of Ethics for the Education Profession in Florida,” which notes: “(1) 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. (2) The educator’s primary professional concern will always be for the student and for the development of the student’s potential. The educator will therefore strive for professional growth and will seek to exercise the best professional judgment and integrity. (3) Aware of the importance of maintaining the respect and confidence of one’s colleagues, of students, of parents, and of other members of the community, the educator strives to achieve and sustain the highest degree of ethical conduct.” Eight days before his presentation to the School Board, Lawrence had met with Hastings for three hours and 40 minutes in regard to the issue he wanted to bring to the School Board. The teacher said that as a Christian brother to Hastings, he was concerned about “the legacy” Hastings will be leaving for generations to come. The culture of intimidation and fear of retaliation in Levy County is debilitating and limiting to what teachers can do in this county to help students learn, Lawrence said. “And you’re allowing me 15 minutes to discuss such an important issue,” Lawrence said as he tried to help the School Board see the intimidation reflected in that act of limiting speech alone. In an email dated Nov. 13, related to that previous and lengthy meeting between Hastings and Lawrence, Hastings noted to Lawrence “Additionally, I am giving you a directive to NOT do any type of survey with school board personnel. If you choose to proceed with a survey, I will consider it ‘Gross insubordination’.” Lawrence explained to the School Board that teachers assess students by survey methods, including testing, on a regular basis. This survey of School Board personnel would be to acquire knowledge as the Code of Ethics shows educators are to seek, Lawrence said. NO INTERACTION “I would like the board to comment on that,” Lawrence said, “if I can present to you a survey.” The question he put to the School Board was if this preventative directive by Hastings was in conflict with the Code of Ethics, “… or if Mr. Hastings is not overstretching his authority here.” School Board Attorney Delaney then told Chairman Turner that the public comment part of the meeting is not a public inquiry where the Board is required to respond. It just gives members of the public a chance to say what they want. “I appreciate that,” Lawrence said to Delaney as he then addressed the School Board, “and here we are down to the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law.” Lawrence suggested that the School Board members could do things as individuals who care about the community rather than not answering his question about whether they believed individually that the superintendent might have imposed a directive that is counterproductive to learning. Philpot said he disliked being accused of hiding behind the letter of the law. “I hide behind the law,” Philpot said. “The law and the spirit of the law are two different things completely sir. That’s my opinion.” (He may have meant to say something else.)
There was sparse attendance Tuesday morning at the School Board meeting.
On June 3, Candy Dean made a presentation to the School Board about the Florida School Leader Assessment, which is a state model principal evaluation system designed for feedback and growth, Lawrence said. After he was an assistant principal at Bronson for four years and the principal position opened, and then Lawrence was not awarded that job, Lawrence said that the choice against promoting him was based on Hastings’ leaning on the word of a “go-to guy” rather than using any actual measure of results. “None of that evaluation process came into play,” Lawrence said. During his four years at BMHS, Lawrence was part of the team that brought the school from being “a low C” to being “within one point of an A,” he said. Since then, Lawrence has applied for several administrative posts and continually has been rejected. Perhaps he is on the proverbial blacklist now, he said. Lawrence showed one slide of all 67 school districts in Florida, and it reflected that Levy County has never broken the 50 percent mark in regard to academic performance on the tests taken by all students in Florida. “If you look at 2014,” he continued, “we are at 20 percent.” In football season terms, that puts the win-loss ratio at 2-8, he said. In the 17 school districts in the North East Florida Education Consortium, Levy County was at 35 or 36 percent in 2004 and now it is at 20 percent. “Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you it (low academic performance) is because of this culture of intimidation and fear of retaliation that exists among the employees of Levy County Public Schools. “Until that changes,” he continued, “all of the good and hard work that we (educators) do will not avail and improve the education of our students. That’s the big elephant in the room. It’s politics. It’s its negative influence on what we do. There needs to be openness. That’s why I am bringing this into the light. We’ve got to stop doing these things in secret. “Stop shifting people around,” he said. “We need to actually look at data to make decisions. Use data. Not just have it on paper. And not just leave it up to personal and political whim.” Hastings replied by saying that he disagrees with almost everything Lawrence said. IMPLIED THREAT ALLEGED “You will not lose your job for telling your story,” Turner said to Lawrence. “However, and pay close attention to this sir, you will follow the chain of command for future concerns and issues. “Have you spoken to your principal?” Turner asked and answered himself by saying, “No. There is a chain of command that any organization follows. You will do that. Thank you. Your time is up.” Lawrence said he does not appreciate the threat. Turner said it was not a threat. Lawrence explained to Turner that it is an implied threat in his opinion. “Every employee of this school (district) and every person in this community has the right to knock on the door and say, ‘Mr. Hastings would you like to talk?’” Lawrence said. “I did that. He accepted that invitation, sir. And the next time I feel like talking to Mr. Hastings, I’m going to knock on his door, and if he accepts it, then we are good to go.” Hastings said his door has never been closed to any employee. Lawrence told Hastings that he appreciates that. ~
In this video, Jerry Lawrence explains why he believes the limiting of the time for discussion about this matter is contrary to some of the principles of the Code of Conduct for Professional Educators in Florida.
In this video, School Board member Robert Philpot said he hides behind the law and not the spirit of the law. He may have meant to say something else.
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