The April 11th meeting of the Hernando County School Board began on a high note with the recognition of community partners contributing to the District’s annual Hernando Grown event. Beth Lastra, Supervisor of College and Career Programs, briefed the Board and the public on the efforts of sponsors, local businesses, and volunteers in making this year’s Hernando Grown program a success. Hernando Grown is a District sponsored annual event for students in middle and high school. Coordinated by HCSD’s College and Career Dept., the student leadership conference is designed to inspire students and introduce them to the many college and career options available right here in Hernando County. Nicole Blair, programs assistant, told the Board that Hernando Grown hosted 250 high schoolers and 350 Middle Schoolers over two days in March during sessions with business leaders and mentors. The event offered training in business, leadership, and goal setting, just to name a few.
The District’s NEOLA policy update was tentatively approved in a workshop on February 14th. When it went before the Board on March 28th, the approval of the update died for a lack of a motion, with some board members having lingering concerns and questions. Particularly Board Member Shannon Rodriguez voiced concerns over pronoun changes throughout the policies. NEOLA (Northeast Ohio Learning Association) represents a set of policies that have been adopted by the district. The policies include several areas: Criminal Background and Employment History Checks, the Instructional Materials Program, Homeless Students, Student Suicide Prevention, Awareness and Screening, Federal Grant Procurement, Student Records, School Safety and Security, and Adoption of Instructional Materials. On April 11, Rodriguez addressed the policy update as it relates to books that are deemed inappropriate in the school libraries. Rodriguez was concerned that the Board members should be taking a personal responsibility to make sure inappropriate books are removed in a timely manner.
Reading from the NEOLA policy, Selection and Adoption of Instructional Materials she stated, “The school board is responsible for the content of all instructional materials and any other materials used in the classroom, made available in a school library or included on a reading list.”
“If I’m reading this right, the responsibility lies on all of us.” Explaining why she went to Central High School’s library to remove an inappropriate book, she stated, “Because we are responsible, and if those books are not being pulled in a timely manner – and we have them still sitting on the shelf- then we have to take it upon ourselves to help and make sure this stuff is cleaned up off the shelves.” She said the policy tells them that the burden lies on our shoulders- not just the media specialists and staff.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure these books are removed.”
Rodriguez shared with the board a list of books she found inappropriate. District Media Specialist Debbye Warrell told board members that she was only aware of two challenges to have books removed that have been filed in the last two years. Following a discussion by the board on the proper procedure to challenge library materials, a vote was held on adopting the NEOLA policy. The vote passed 4-1 in favor, with board member Mark Johnson dissenting.
During the opportunity for Citizen’s Input on Agenda Items, Hernando County Teacher’s Association President Lisa Masserio addressed the Board regarding the personnel recommendations that continuously appear on the Consent Agenda. Masserio reminded the Board that the district currently has 120 instructional vacancies. She pointed out that even though new teachers are being hired, others are leaving, which leaves a constant staff shortage. Masserio called for reflection as to the reasons that the District has a high turnover rate. She stated, “ The reflection is not just the running of the school district like some would like to believe. We have normalized attacks on our schools and attacks on our district, which in turn have normalized attacks on our teachers. Everyone needs to look in the mirror and think about how your behavior may or may not be contributing to that. If we continue to normalize attacks on the people who are serving in our schools, we will have more vacancies, and our students will suffer.” She went on to say, “We have to think about how those attacks and how always assuming an attacking posture is having a very detrimental effect on our ability to recruit and train staff members.” Masserio concluded by saying, “ I would love to see more conversations about how we solve those kinds of problems rather than conspiracy theories… let’s chase down a rabbit hole kinds of topics.” The remarks drew a round of applause from the audience.
In other business, the Board passed most of the items on the Consent Agenda, but three items were pulled for discussion at the request of members Mark Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez. Only one of the pulled items seemed problematic, that of approval of a job description for the Coordinator of Career and Technical Education. After several minutes of discussing the issue, that item passed on a 3-2 vote, with Mark Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez voting “No.” The other two items regarding an NJROTC field trip and a copier contract were easily passed on 5-0 votes after a brief discussion.
The Citizen’s input portion of the meeting proved to be emotionally charged, with citizens predominantly speaking on two “hot button” topics. One was that of books being deemed inappropriate and being pulled from the library. Citizens lined up and spoke with passion on both sides of the issue.
The most pressing citizen concern of the evening was the District’s handling of a recent event at Fox Chapel Middle School. That event occurred on March 24th when a teacher allegedly made threatening remarks of self-harm and, according to some, threatened to harm students. Parents lined up to demand answers as to why the district failed to notify them of the incident until weeks afterward. By then, parents had learned of the incident through social media and from rumors being circulated by students. Parents asked Board Superintendent John Stratton for the facts surrounding the issue, which he declined to make public. Stratton said, “Yes, there were some comments made. It was investigated by our staff, and the Sheriff’s Department. It went late into the evening. Both of those agencies, who do this all the time, said that there was not an imminent threat. When there is an imminent threat, we notify any of the parents or schools that may be involved at that time.” Stratton went on to say he could not share all of the facts. He then emphasized again that both his staff and the Sheriff’s department had determined there was not an imminent threat. Stratton said he trusted the two agencies and asked parents to do the same. Stratton went on to say the teacher was “cleared that evening, was not on the campus for a few days, and was cleared to return again. She’s been there.” Stratton’s comment was met with a chorus of questions from parents. Stratton invited them to talk to him after the meeting and said, “…but my answers will be the same.”
See additional coverage of the Fox Chapel incident in this edition.
April 11 Consent Agenda Items:
Approval of the Personnel Recommendations
Approval of out of state travel for Automotive Teacher, Barry Beyerl to attend the 2023 ASE Instructor Training Conference from July 17, 2023 to July 20, 2023 in North Carolina
Approve out of state field trip for Master Gunnery Sergeant Michael Arnett and an NJROTC Cadet to Camp Perry, Port Clinton, Ohio, for All-Services Nationals event on March 22 – 26, 2023.
Approval to Accept the Internal Accounts Audit Report for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2022
Approve Job Description for Coordinator of Career and Technical Education – Wilton Simpson Technical College
Approve the Purchase of Sonday System Curriculum from Winsor Learning, Inc. and Authorize the Issuance of a Purchase Order for an Estimated Amount of $105,847.50
Approve the purchase of the annual license, maintenance and hosting renewal(s) to Skyward and authorize the issuance of purchase orders for an estimated annual amount of $450,000.00
Approve the amendment to the piggyback of US Communities and National IPA (OMNIA Partners Cooperative), Contract No. 4400003732 for Multi-Function Devices and Related Services, awarded to Ricoh USA, Inc. to remove one device from the contract award.
Approve piggybacking the Sourcewell Cooperative RFP #091521, Contract #091521-NAF for Cars, Trucks, Vans, SUVS, Cab Chassis & Other Vehicles, awarded to National Auto Fleet Group (NAFG) and authorize the purchase of vehicles for an estimated spending of $80,799.00.
Approve the renewal of the piggyback of OMNIA Partners, Region 4 Education Service Center (ESC), R192006, Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) Supplies and Related Services, awarded to Lowe’s Home Center, LLC and authorize the purchases of goods for an estimated annual spending of $150,000.