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The Buzz 4/14/11

WMS SAGA: SEX AND FCAT The Warrington Middle School saga (Independent News, “Tarnished Turnaround,” April 7) continues as more parents and teachers come forward. The IN received details about allegations of oral sex in a classroom while the teacher was present and another teacher not teaching the curriculum, but instead using class time to prepare for Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

When District Investigator John Dobbs reported on the sexual misconduct on a school bus loaded with basketball players and band members without a chaperone, he interviewed the band teacher, Charles Rogers. Dobbs wrote that Rogers wasn’t aware of any reported misconduct involving the female student from the bus incident, but “said that he had heard allegations of some misconduct in the band storage area, and due to the limited space in that area, discounted the allegation as false.”

A parent of a band student shared what Rogers is referring to: A female student (same one that was on the bus) performed oral sex in a partitioned area in the back of the band classroom. Rogers was notified by a student when it was happening, but instead told the student to sit down and shut up, according to the parent. When the bus incident happened, several band parents confronted Rogers about the prior incident, which may be how Dobbs found out about it.
The other report IN received is how an American History class was converted to preparation for the math portion of the FCAT test. “I was upset, because my daughter knows her math,” said the parent. “She was only taught American History about two months out of the year.”

This story matches what LCDR (ret.) Thomas Jones, another parent interviewed for our April 7 cover story, told the IN about how the sixth graders were constantly being drilled on FCAT instead of the class subjects.
“My son was doing FCAT reading (prep) before Thanksgiving,” said Jones. “By January he was begging his teacher if he could do something fun that day.”

How well did WMS do on the FCAT last year? Ten percent more of the students met high standards in math, but that was offset by the lowest 25 percent making fewer gains, from 74 to 69 percent. American History isn’t tested by the FCAT.

HOW SANTA ROSA SCHOOLS HANDLE CRIME The IN interviewed Bill Emerson, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the Santa Rosa County Public School District, about the School Environmental Safety Incident Report (SESIR) and how his schools report incidents to law enforcement.

“The way we view it is there are two things that happen when a kid gets into trouble,” said Emerson. “The first responsibility we have is to investigate regarding the school’s involvement. If that investigation leads to a possible violation of the law, then we notify law enforcement and then it’s their case.

“We’re not trying to decide if it’s legal or illegal. If we think it’s on the line, we notify law enforcement. They come in and make that judgment.”

Based on the SESIR report from the Florida Department of Education, the Santa Rosa County schools reported in the 2009-10 school year over 86 percent of its campus crime and violence to law enforcement. For the more serious incidents,
the reporting percentage to the law was 92 percent. Escambia County only reported 32 percent to law enforcement, and only 38 percent of the more serious types of incidents.

After the IN investigation into Warrington Middle School was published, Escambia County School Board member Jeff Bergosh wrote on his blog, jeffbergoshblog.blogspot.com, that the IN was “hurling new allegations our way that are incorrect regarding protocols for SESIR reporting.” He wrote that a special board meeting had been set for April 14, 3 p.m. to prove the paper wrong.

“I can say that to the best of my knowledge on our campuses if crimes are committed and discovered–these crimes are reported, that is the law and it aligns with our school board policies on reporting of such incidents,” wrote Bergosh.
The IN asked Emerson about Santa Rosa’s policies. “Based on our code of conduct, there are some instances in which law enforcement is contacted,” said Emerson. “When we have an issue, the school pulls up the code to see what we’re going to do. If it says notify law enforcement, then they do so.”

Emerson said that he wasn’t aware of any complaints from parents about the district being too strict on reporting incidents to law enforcement.

GUN-TOTING STUDENTS The 2010 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey tracks the trends on delinquent behavior among public school students at the middle and high school levels.

The study shows that 6.1 percent of Escambia County high school students admitted to carrying a handgun in the past 12 months, and one of three of those students said that they taken a handgun to school.

Nearly 13 percent of the high school students and 11 percent of the middle schoolers stated that they had attacked someone in the past 12 months with the intent to harm.

BROWNSVILLE DEAL STILL OPEN The sale of Brownsville Middle School failed to make the April agenda for the Escambia County School Board. In January, George Hawthorne and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas announced that the school, which had been closed since 2007, would be sold to Hawthorne’s company for $1 million.

In November 2010, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church offered $500,000 for the property, but Thomas refused to bring it before the school board.

The superintendent reportedly also has an offer from Ever’man Natural Foods for the district’s End User Support building on Garden Street. The cooperative has offered $450,000 for the building, according to our sources. Thomas has refused to bring that offer to the board. Apparently, there is an appraisal from 2008 that has it valued at $650,000.

Superintendent Thomas hasn’t announced his plans for the schools that will be closed this summer: Spencer Bibbs, Hallmark and Allie Yniestra.