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School official says district looking at bullying allegations

By Staff | Nov 18, 2009

Lee County School Board Chairman Steve Teuber confirmed Tuesday night that the school district is investigating allegations made by parents from the city of Sanibel about systematic bullying and intimidation.
Parents of students at The Sanibel School first addressed the board Nov. 3. On Tuesday the board heard from 34 speakers, an overwhelming majority of them addressing the allegations.
Some claimed that special needs children were being forced out of the school to ensure that the school average did not decrease, while others said instances of bullying and harassment went unaddressed.
Another parent, in support of the top-rated school, said a petition was signed by 160 parents in support of how the school administration conducted business.
Superintendent James Browder said the Office of Civil Rights is conducting an investigation into the allegations. The district will also carry out a subsequent investigation within its professional standards and ESE department.
Browder expects the investigations to take approximately three months.
“This is an administrative issue and that falls under purvey of superintendent,” he said. “I take all of these very seriously and I will make the right decision in the best interest of students, staff and the community.”
Teuber said he hopes the issue can be resolved between both sides.
“There are a lot of things that don’t get solved when people carry grudges,” he said. “Sanibel is a great community. I hope we can come to this and get this resolved and that everyone gets a resolution we can work with.”
While many came out in support of The Sanibel School, other parents discussed their child’s horrific experiences. Former students also addressed the board about being bullied and being ignored by school officials
“My children were both bullied and harassed over the last five years,” said Claudia Foster, a parent. “My oldest son was denied participation in his eighth-grade graduation ceremony because he refused to dig through a cafeteria trash can as ordered by his principal.”
Two teenage girls, former students at the school, said they were threatened with violence by other girls in the school, but nothing was done.
Carol Smith, a teacher for 10 years at The Sanibel School, said Tuesday that she has never seen any of the issues described by upset parents and students.
“The present administration at The Sanibel School is the most effective, positive and proficient of my career,” Smith said. “I saw, in the last board meeting, that some painted a picture that is a direct contrast to my experience over the last 10 years.”
One Sanibel parent said he hoped the investigation would clear up any of the issues.
“I hope your investigation will be speedy and it won’t become a political hot potato with some people suggesting conspiracy theories,” said Jean Gross, a volunteer at The Sanibel School for the last five years.
Cape Coral anti-bullying advocate Debbie Johnston also addressed the school board Tuesday night.
“From my experiences, bullying is a terrible thing to happen at schools. My heart goes out to the kids,” she said. “I can tell you, without the support of the superintendent and school district there wouldn’t be a Florida anti-bullying law.”
School board members could not comment on the issue Tuesday because there is an open investigation.