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Closing Flagler’s Alternative School: When The Classmate Next to Your Child Is a Felon

| May 19, 2013

The Everest alternative school campus, adjoining Flagler Palm Coast High School, has five teachers and an average of 50 students at any given time. (© FlaglerLive)

The Everest alternative school campus, adjoining Flagler Palm Coast High School, has five teachers and an average of 50 students at any given time. (© FlaglerLive)

As I scan the Flagler County jail docket, which the local newspaper prints each Wednesday, I’m not surprised to see a certain former student’s name listed among the several dozen people booked last week. He amassed dozens of behavior referrals when he attended Matanzas High School and failed my class and several others. I’d seen his name in the docket before. This time, charges included the sale of a schedule II substance, grand theft auto and possession of marijuana.

Every now and then I see a former student’s name listed, including one last month who’d been labeled  “gifted,” when he’d sat in many of the same classes with my own daughter years ago.   How sad to see people, especially those with potential, waste their lives. But even worse is realizing that I, and many teachers of these students, predicted such outcomes years ago, despite all-too-frequent parental reluctance to see what we’d clearly foreseen. The telltale signs of rough waters ahead manifested themselves in and out of the classroom in frequent, and none too subtle, ways.

Those former students’ names I see in the docket typically had juvenile records, too.  Most of the time their names weren’t published as minors (though local police routinely release the names of minors charged with felonies). But we teachers could easily discern who they were.  How could we not, when their parole officers showed up on campus, or when they missed class to go to court?

The Nahirny Files:

It’s not uncommon for juvenile offenders, even those who’ve committed serious crimes, to sit in public school classrooms. The law permits many underage criminals to continue attending school alongside the well-behaved and law-abiding youngsters –-your children and mine. That’s because the crimes they commit almost always occur outside of school hours. So school administrators’ hands are tied. The law limits what they can do.

In neighboring Duval County for example, a 14-year-old recently beat a classmate so brutally (an event captured and shared using cell phones) that the victim suffered a fractured skull. But it happened off school grounds. So the perpetrator is being allowed to return to school. (A circuit judge banned the attacker from attending any public school in the county, but an appeals court suspended the order.) In a televised statement, Duval Superintendent Nickolai Vitti said, “I don’t think we should use the bad decisions that children make outside of school as an example or scapegoat to make a message…. It’s a tough decision, but my role as superintendent is to support the law.”

The bully’s attorney agreed, telling CBS “Our goal is to return our client, a child, to a public school, so she can complete her studies for this academic year.”

Fortunately, in Flagler County, we have an “alternative school,” Everest, previously called Pathways, which some (but by no means all) of the most behaviorally challenged middle and high school students now attend.  The district plans to close Everest if voters don’t approve a property tax of 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value on June 7, at an average annual cost to homeowners of less than $50.

In online and public forums, I’ve been dismayed to hear and read comments some have made supporting the proposal to close Everest. But if Everest closes, the truth is that most of its students will return to “regular” classrooms –and will sit in seats next to your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, younger siblings or your grandchildren.

Some of these youths seriously impede the learning environment. During my eight years at Matanzas, I’ve seen it happen in my own classroom and countless others, where we’re expected to “control” a teen –whose own parents cannot or will not. The significant amount of time we must allocate to dealing with the misbehaviors of insubordinate and unruly kids detracts substantially from the time we spend with your children, the kids who really want to learn, the youth who deserve an education.

Over the years, more than a few juvenile offenders have appeared on my rosters and those of my colleagues. I’m not talking here about teens who’ve smoked a little pot, or gotten into a relatively minor scrape or scuffle, or been caught in flagrante delicto. I don’t condone these activities. But those sorts of students are suspended and inevitably return to the fold within a week or two. I’m talking about those who’ve already earned designations such as “juvenile sexual offender” –or far worse.

I remember a few years ago a girl in my seventh period English class. Her mother had requested a teacher who was “stern and strict” and who would offer her child “routine” and “structure” because she’d had “some trouble” in the past. That’s all the information I received. Teachers rarely get the full story, as kids’ privacy rights trump my rights to know what I’m dealing with–as well as your rights to know who’s occupying the seat next to your innocent son or daughter.

I later found out she’d been incarcerated for nearly three years. You don’t have to be brilliant to figure out that she must have done something really serious to merit such a long stint behind bars. I almost didn’t want to know what. Yet, she proved to be a bright gal, participatory and eager.  I hoped she’d succeed, and spent many afternoons after school giving her extra help. I treated her like everyone else, with respect and dignity,  not letting what I knew of her past cloud my judgment.

But it didn’t take long before she began cutting classes, earning detentions, Saturday school, and in-school and out-of-schools suspensions.  She was caught with tobacco. She earned referrals for cheating and being rude to her teachers. She got arrested for assaulting her mother when they fought over who smoked whose cigarettes. One day she showed up with glassy, bloodshot eyes, started shouting uncontrollably when I asked her to take her seat and begin her work, then stormed out of the room, pelting me and her shocked classmates with a barrage of profanities. A few days later, she was gone — a runaway, someone said.

The following year, a dashing young man was added to one of my sophomore English classes a few weeks after the school year started. Noticing he was a few years older than the others, I was told he’d failed several classes due to his frequent, unexcused absences, attributed to some vague “home issues.”  I suspected he’d been in trouble with the law, but didn’t know the details. One day, a colleague told me to check out a certain website saying, “I think you’ll recognize someone on it.”  At home that same night, I did–and was greeted by the boy’s mug shot. Under his name it read, “Juvenile Sexual Offender.” Reading the details, I learned he’d been found guilty of sexual assault–on a girl under the age of 12! And yet here he was, in my classroom, surrounded by attractive females.  Would you want your daughter or granddaughter to be one of them?

In the routine pattern that typically emerged amongst the smattering of juvenile offenders assigned to my classes, he completed no homework or reading assignments. When he did attend school, he came without pens, pencils or notebooks, no matter how many supplies I gave him.   He violated myriad school rules, resulting in weekly detentions and in-school suspensions.  He racked up a few dozen referrals in a matter of months. More than once I and his six other teachers and other staff members attended before and after school parent conferences to discuss his lack of progress and poor behavior. Each time we listened to his tearful mother bemoaning the “raw deal” he got, lamenting that she’d “tried everything” and “nothing works.”   Eventually, after several teachers questioned why his antics hadn’t landed him in alternative school, the boy signed a “behavior contract” wherein he and mother acknowledged that one more infraction would result in his placement at Pathways (now Everest).

 That happened within hours after he signed it – whereupon his mother immediately withdrew him, purportedly to “homeschool” him, rather than allowing him to face the consequences of his own poor choices and misbehavior.

I believe all students are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, and that all students can learn–but not at the expense of disrupting the learning experience of dozens of the other kids I teach who truly want to take advantage of the educational opportunities which we, as  taxpayers,  ensure they get each day.

Newtown and other appalling events have caused many of us to question whether we are doing enough, or spending enough, to keep our children safe. But perhaps the greatest threats aren’t posed from anomalous psychotic gunmen. The biggest threats could lurk in our very own schoolyards–or soon may, if we leave them with nowhere else to go.

Jo Ann C. Nahirny, a 1985 graduate of Columbia University and a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches English at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast. Reach her by email here.

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61 Responses for “Closing Flagler’s Alternative School: When The Classmate Next to Your Child Is a Felon”

  1. RG says:

    I still dont think that taxes should be increased one more cent. We are all paying for education of all kids. Are we now being asked to coddle those with issues because they dont want to get educated? Parents should be responsible for their little creations good or bad. Thats what parents should do. These issues
    will get progressivly worse because we keep bending to a minority of people who keep passing the buck and throwing money at quick fixes. Disipline, accountability, and unity will solve this problem not more money.


  2. TommyJohn says:

    Hey, wait a minute. If you lose these students, there goes State funding. One minute the school system is crying about State funding per child and now you want to get rid of them. You want to start a new Technology track for $250,000 but you don’t want these types of students. What is it?

    Personally, the State Department of Education and the Inspector General for the Florida Dept. of Education should be called in to investigate both, the Flagler County Superintendent’s Office and The Flagler County School Board for malfeasance and misfeasance. Maybe they can help you out but the cow is dry here in Flagler County. Vote No!


  3. Bethechange says:

    How much more disciplined & accountable can you get? Bottom line: flagler county schools are functioning at $55 million dollars LESS per year than they were in 2007. Florida’s poster child was just bragging about how great (cheap) it is for taxpayers in our state, with no state income tax. Get a grip. Services cost money and it’s ignorant to think people will work for free. The system is plenty flawed. What system isn’t? But all the school board member’s & administrator’s salaries in the district won’t even come close to that mark.

    I speak for the trees! :)


  4. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    @ songbird. Really? Did you get just as offended when Mr. Asperger himself Adam Lanza wiped out nearly thirty people. That’s more in one shot than most serial killers. the point I’m making is every time one of your precious all American psycho paths slips through the cracks and knocks off multiple people like what’s been happening lately, people still find a way to humanize them with colorful disorders when in fact the dude is just nuts and playing too much Call of Duty. But because their face is a face you would see in your own family portrait you say “it’s the disorder”. As soon as the “code comments” about animals and thugs, THEY need the key thrown away and so-on get posted nobody’s dumb it’s understood once again the usual suspects are the scape goat. Guess what while you’ve teaching your kids to watch out for the kids from the hood, twenty something year-old male Caucasians have been going nuts and the under privileged and minorities aren’t the target.


  5. w.ryan says:

    Scare tactic at the most highest! I’ve read Jo Ann’s articles in the past. She has had some insightful points. I am very disappointed however with this editorial. This so called expose is void of reality. It is just pessimism and negative judgements. It’s disappointing! Truth is these schools have been a school to prison pipeline for far too long. This retributive system is unhealthy for our society and for our kids and has landed many of our youth in a direction to fail. Pathways or Everest( Whatever) equates to zero tolerance by a Flagler School system that refuses to be tolerant to many that have issues that can be remedied. They have failed many children. Speaking from experience I am so happy I removed my son from this fly trap. That is because I was there to intercede on his behalf. Unfortunately there are so many parents that have been victims of this system themselves or have their butts in a wrench that squeeze the effort out of them. It is easier to put kids away and have them pay for not following the so called rules. One shouldn’t paint themselves as an angel and write should words in the guise of a worthy cause. I would like for the School Board to not threaten its constituency with removing programs and other items to muster votes. Also I suspect the fear by some members regarding re-election. It’s politics! The reality is there is little money spent on these programs. Lets cut from the top and work our way down. By the time you get to what is being threatened the problem will be solved. Everest is a waste. Not that there aren’t bad apples but forgetting isn’t a crime and respect is a learned response. Instead of the security scare give these kids something to do, somewhere to go and some one in their corner. I supported fully the renewing of the tax in the last referendum. I cannot support this one. It’s bogus!


  6. Unknown says:

    To be honest, when you talk about this issue with those that work within the district, one would agree that the 0.5 mil (or really just an additional 0.25 from what you are currently paying… or 1.99 each month..) is not going to affect the decision of closing Everest. It is believed by many that the school will be closing or highly restructured to eliminate additional costs. The 0.5 mil vote is really quite more for our children. The art programs, technology, elementary buses to those less than 2 miles, etc. I HIGHLY recommend to anyone that if you are undecided that you attend an informational meeting or seminar. The school board has many scheduled and it is very informative… very! The topic of Everest is not one to be focused on. There are so many more activities and resources that will be affected. Again, it is not 0.5 mil… it is an additional 0.25 mil from what all Flagler County tax payers are currently paying or about 1.99 each month for a total of about 24 bucks a year. Attend a meeting!!


  7. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    @ nope says. I don’t recall saying the 2011 case had to do with race. I’m saying a lot of commenters out in the Flagler County blogosphere or not, like to pick and choose their opinions and words of punishment for people they can’t and don’t want to relate to. You can say all you want “that was the incident that caused tasers to be carried”. They were going to carry tasers and guns sooner or later, fast forward Sandy Hook. The fact is neither the deputy or the teacher in 2011 used any brute force whatsoever to subdue the teen that everyone forgets about in 2011. By the way John Landi this current deputy was a state champ wrestler and he’s barely 40 years-old. Everybody is quick to fight fire with fire, what’s funny is for the average citizen in this country everyday YOUR one step closer to being on the end of a cops taser or worse.


  8. Palm Coast Mother says:

    Seems to me you all have forgotten about the recent fight in the cafeteria of the 18 year old attacking the 15 year old. My daughter was in the cafeteria that morning. You have all forgotten about the rape of the 14 year old girl that took place at MHS earlier this year. That kid was charged with burglaries in the B section. If he’d have been made to enroll at Everest instead of being allowed to leave FPC for MHS, she would have been safe from him and the resulting death threats she was treated to following the incident. Yes, I personally know her and our family has since 6th grade. Or the other youtube video of a fight at MHS from a couple of years ago. Hmmm, if these kids were sent to Everest where they get more monitoring and one on one time with this smaller classes or whatever it is they do there, these issues would not happen as frequently as they do. I for one, do not want my daughter wondering if something is going to happen to her at school. She’s been through enough in her short life. I will be voting yes in the hopes that Everest stays open as an option for these kids, however, just in case, my daughter will not be attending either high school next fall. Instead, she will be attending virtual school. Mrs. Nahirny I have heard many great things about you. Thank you for your article and your view points. It is truly a shame that more people don’t have the sense to read your words without attempting to read into your words. Linda, the first responding teacher, thank you for your view point as well. More teachers need to come forward with their stories so the school board will see how every important it is to keep Everest open. Good luck to both of you.


  9. Regretful decisions says:

    I bet that the school board/district will REGRET their decision on closing Everest as violence/crime rises throughout our schools next year. Then what will they do? Try to reopen Everest? No one in his/her right mind would want to work there after all this negatively. A teacher will always be worried about his/her job every year!


  10. Sherry Epley says:

    VOTE NO! This is an extremely complex issue that cannot be solved by throwing even more tax money at it!

    While dicipline, learning/work ethics, respect. . . all “character” traits begin at home, our students spend much more of their waking hours at school, than at home. The influence of the school environment is tremendous, in many more ways than the “lesson plan”. Unfortunately, it seems that our school system. . . as a whole, and nationwide. . . has drifted completely away from any sort of diciplined, professional learning environment. Through the last 30 or so years, it has gradually become the new generations of entitled Children (using their parents authority) who now actually have an unbalanced influence in all aspects of school policy. Teachers and principals can no longer require students to behave and pay attention in class. Most students (and even some teachers) show up even dressed in a way that is disrespectful to the institution. That teachers are under paid, considering their required level of education, is a reflection of our very poor esteem for profession. I could go on and on with more examples, but hopefully you get my point.

    We have perpetuated the “black hole” of not realizing, and truly understanding that educating each and every child to their fullest potential is the ONLY path to creating the best future for our country. There is NO SUCH THING as “over education”. . . a phrase we have all heard during political discussions. Saying that, our teachers and administrators are now “bound” by the structural regulations that have evolved over recent years. Teachers have the burden of educating our future generations within the many constraints, while receiving little respect from students, parents and the tax payers. . . YET they have little true AUTHORITY to do their jobs well. Any management consultant would tell you that this imbalance spells disaster for any professional organization.

    None of these systemic problems will be solved by closing schools and the other cut backs that have been happening, or by creating more taxes for our citizens. Tha analogy that comes to mind is giving a child a check, instead our loving attention and solving problems together.

    We should not be turning our schools into armed fortresses just to please the NRA!

    Again, when our school board sets the good example of trimming their own inflated salaries, and those of the high level administrators, and when I see school taxes used more for core educational needs, I will be more willing to vote in favor of a tax increase.


  11. Voting Yes says:

    Great article! We need Everest, an more resource officers in the schools.


  12. A.S.F. says:

    The only thing worse than having inadequate options is having no options. Children deserve to have a safe place to learn and a chance to breathe easy during the day. They should not have to be victimized by the cruelty, incompetence and apathy of others. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to take a careful look at the full scope of the problems described above and come up with the solutions necessary to safeguard their safety–and our’s. Kiddie criminals become adult criminals. Don’t think being short-sighted and tight-fisted with your money in this regard will serve you well. Why not appoint a volunteer task-force, comprised of parents, teachers, law enforcement and administrative officials to study the issues and come up with some recommendations, to be presented at a public forum for further consideration? These problems won’t disappear magically on their own!


  13. Brad W says:

    So what is it we are “investing in” again? I should vote to increase my taxes for a local school system that produces enough horrible kids that we have to build them their own school? This is our future leadership we’re “investing in”?


    • IMO says:

      Brad W…let me attempt one final time to advise why this tax vote is a good deal. However this time let me advise you and others what we are facing.

      We are not in any ordinary recessional type of economy.

      The Federal Reserve has printed 3 trillion dollars in new paper currency. This has devalued the U.S. dollar to almost making it extinct. The European Union, China, India and Russia want to go back on the the Gold Standard. That is coming. They want every currency in the world to once again be backed by how much gold a nation has. Why? Because it prevents a nation from printing worthless paper money to purchase goods/services or pay off debt. It’s a pretty basic concept but let me try to explain it so everybody will understand.

      The U.S. went completely off the Gold Standard in backing U.S. dollars in the Nixon administration. Since Nixon we have based on currency value in petro dollars. (oil) OPEC led by Saudi Arabia joined together with the U.S. to maintain the value of the dollar by manipulating oil prices. The dollar is now basically worthless. So the era of the petro dollar is over.

      Now the U.S. government reports it has 8000 tons of gold in Ft. Knox and in vaults in various Federal Reserve Buildings. 8000 tons of gold is 16 million pounds of gold. or 256,000000 ounces of gold in vaults to back the value of our currency. Gold prices closed today at $1,382 an ounce. OK if my math is correct that would mean the Federal Reserve should have $353,792,000,000 in paper money in circulation.

      However what has occurred is the Federal Reserve has printed another 3 trillion in paper money and we don’t have another 80000 tons of gold to give that 3 trillion dollars any real value.

      Now you could post back but the U.S. has a GDP of 14 trillion dollars per year and other assets. My response would be we no longer have a super power manufacturing sector, what do we make except weapon systems and cars nobody wants? Our 19th and 20th century infrastructure in this nation’s major cities is crumbing before our very eyes. The cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis etc are bankrupt. 11 States led by California are bankrupt. The family farm system which this nation had always put on a pedestal is basically gone. Imagine that BradW the U.S. has to import food! Yes of course we should not have too. The 2010 census tells us more people were 65 years and over in 2010 than in any previous census.
      Between 2000 and 2010 mthe population 65 years and over increased at a faster rate (15.1 percent)
      than the total U.S population at 9.7 percent. We have 10.9 million people on Social Security Disability, 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring on Social Security each day, we are down to 1.75 full-time private-sector workers in the United States last year for each person receiving benefits from Social Security, we have a Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate of 7.5% (however other non government think tanks set unemployment at 16.3%), an estimated 45 million people receiving food stamps. Obamacare kicks in in less than 7 months. We are 17 trillion dollars in debt with an estimated 60 to 120 trillion in unfunded liabilities in the near future, and we’re spending 30 to 50 percent of our tax revenue on debt service payments as we may enter into a bond market crisis.

      So Bernanke’s Quantitative Easing IV is the last stop on the train. After QE IV the era of 0% federal reserve loan rates to banks will abruptly come to an end. Thus low interest rates to borrowers will abruptly come to an end.

      Bernanke will leave office in 2 months and whoever the next Treasury Secretary is will begin the process of slowly but surely raising the Fed’s interest rates to the banks which as I said will raise interest rates to borrowers, be they business loans or personal loans.

      So let’s top this all off with what is now a 1200 page Immigration Reform Bill that is going to be a boom to our economy? Boom? So what jobs are going to be created for these immigrants? Guess “We have to pass the bill to find out.”

      So where does all this information leave us? If I typed the words “Wiemar Republic” would you understand that? No. OK the era of inflation if not hyper inflation is coming. Matter of fact it is already here. Sure gasoline prices seem lower than the beginning of the year but have you been to the supermarket lately? Housing prices are slowly beginning to rise? Mortgage rates are still 3.65% for those with a excellent credit score but have a credit score less than 699 they are already in the 4% bracket. In 2 or 3 years they will be 8% to 12%. Nonsense you say? You would be wrong BradW. I’ve seen it before and not so long ago.

      So much to comprehend but yet it is all incomprehensible. So much turmoil that is incomprehensible. So much rebuilding of a nation to do and no money to do it. I can post the things I have posted above but simply cannot wrap my arms around any of it. The numbers are just to huge to do that. It’s like are there and “Constants” left in life. You set up a budget, then adjust that budget only to have the federal, state or local government throw you a curve ball that forces you to budget again, hope you can adjust that budget if necessary. But some things inn a budget are “Constants.” You know your mortgage payment, car payment, insurance payments etc. So where am I going with all this?

      Right in front of every taxpayer in Palm coast is a “4 year Constant!” I vote Yes and the schools cannot come back for another bite of my apple for the next 4 years. Not until 2018! What do I get in return for this minute tax increase? The knowledge that Teachers like Ms. Nahirny and other Teachers will stay in their classrooms for the next 4 years. I cannot guarantee that with inflation coming down the tracks at 150 mph but I can pray and hope that for less than $2.00 or even $5.00 a month for those who have higher assessed valued homes she will still be teaching in 2017, we won’t be closing entire schools down as inflation rises the costs of maintaining them. See Brad I concluded a long time ago that the 1/2 mil is proper planning by the School Board knowing we are about to enter an inflationary economy. There is no escaping that. I have been there before. When you print 3 trillion dollars in paper currency resulting inflation is a “Constant.”

      So being a former Boy Scout (so long ago) I advise Vote Yes “Be Prepared” for what is surely going to affect us all. Inflationary costs.

      So I ask you and others BradW to please reconsider your thoughts on this vote. Please do not burden the parents and students with year after year of concerns as “The Carnivorous Termite of Inflation” destroys what is now an excellent school system the one “Constant” their children currently have in their lives.


    • IMO says:

      BradW could i please offer you some suggested reading material.


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