By Kevin Vaccianna
Palm Bay Live
Brevard Public School Board met on December 8 for a special session after a press conference on November 28th led by Sherriff Wayne Ivey announced “a brand new day” for discipline at the schools. The press conference presented a united front from School Board Chair Matt Susin, Business Representative from the Local 1010 IUPAT, Delores Varney, and Brevard County State Attorney Phil Archer to present a new priority of addressing discipline issues within the schools and busses at local schools. The press conference was held at the local jail and served as a point of concern for many parents and local leaders. The board meeting had dozens from the community in attendance. The passionate discussion turned heated on occasion as the board filled over seven hours discussing discipline issues with the community.
The meeting opened with a welcome and presentation of the agenda from Board Chair Matt Susin. Although several items were listed for discussion on the agenda, the board voted to end the meeting at 4 pm, and discipline issues were the only business discussed. Other issues will be presented at the December 13th board meeting and work session. The order of business for the discipline issue was broken down into the following points: Why, Public Comment, Before the Incident, During the Incident, After the Incident, and Community Involvement. Matt Susin opened the discussion with a panel of community members gathered around the table to discuss their concerns and reasons “why” they felt the meeting and subsequent need for addressing discipline issues had reached a critical point at Brevard Schools.
Members of the community invited to speak included a wide variety of staff and union members to speak on behalf of teachers, bus drivers, IA’s, and parents at Brevard Public Schools, Sherriff Wayne Ivey, and representatives from the NAACP.
Feedback from the President of the Brevard Federation of Teachers, Anthony Colucci showed a stark list of incidents reported citing discipline infractions ranging from classroom elopement to distracting cell phone use and continuing to assault of staff, sex acts in the classroom, and drug use as well as more significant threats to the schoolwide violence. Although most teachers and staff reported that the issues came from a small number of offenders, the growing number of violence issues is a lingering and exhausting concern. Tracie Arzola, Co-Chair of Local 1010 and a parent, shared her concern, “We spent millions on security; we got SROs on site. We spent millions to keep danger out; all we’re doing is caging it in.”
Board member, Jennifer Jenkins, denounced the video press conference as inappropriate, unauthorized, and not previously discussed by the board and challenged the agenda of lacking specificity for a plan of action on policies. Katye Campbell confirmed her frustration of not understanding the proposed methods of policy restructuring in advance of the meeting. The meeting was opened for public speaking at approximately the three-hour mark.
During public discussion, parents, guardians, and community members each received three minutes at the podium to voice their concerns with the board. The level of frustration varied from thanking the board for their service and commitment to the community to asking Chair Matt Susin to “please resign.” Some highlights and targeted issues of those speaking included addressing staffing issues such as training and adding additional staff, concern about SROs and threatening demeanor of the sheriff’s department and police in schools (including new uniforms that include larger rifles carried on the chest of SRO officers daily in school), traumatizing children with a police presence in the school, corporal punishment, distrust of Brevard policing and the school board, prioritizing mental health over policing discipline, and many felt the actions of the press conference leaders were embarrassing to the Brevard community overall and one accusing Chair Matt Susin of “pandering to the Sherriff.”
After public comments, the board discussed actions and steps the district could implement before an incident that would support staff and administrators. Staff, administrators, union leaders, and board members agreed that additional training opportunities would advance discipline policies for the district.
With twenty-two minutes left in the allotted time for the meeting, Matt Susin regrouped to articulate directives for Deputy Superintendent Dr. Beth Thedy. On the list of items to “start immediately”:
- “Culture of change” to empower staff and administrators to open discussions and be able to discuss and push back on referrals.
- Form a discipline committee of diverse citizens in the community, including the Sheriff’s Department, members of leadership and unions at the school, and the NAACP.
- Work towards building three additional professional development days into the school calendars and teaching contracts. (Note: with the 23-24 calendar year set for approval on December 13. This initiative is expected to be implemented in school year 24-25.)
- Define assault and battery in a socially appropriate way so that teachers and staff will understand that their administration and the district support them.
- Strictly enforce the current cell phone policies.
- Further communicate that buses are equal to the school and that all policies apply equally.
- Evaluate and clean up the referral process.
The close of the meeting brought forth additional heated disagreement between board member Jennifer Jenkins and Chair Matt Susin. Still, the meeting was appreciated by school staff and the community as a starting point for further discussion. Although little progress was made and the general feeling of the room was frustrated, the hope that future discussions would lead to positive changes was evident. Several were thankful to be invited to the discussion, and one staffer seemed to share a common thread of respect for the process ahead, “I’m excited that we are all in this room together right now. Whatever it is that brought us together, I hope we can move past that because what we have in common, right now, is a love for students, is a love for school, and a need to make things better.”
The next meeting of the Brevard Public Schools Board of Directors is December 13th. An agenda is available on the school website. Here is a link to the Palm Bay Live recording of the Special Session of the board.