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To School Officials’ Surprise, NAACP Accuses District of ‘Obstruction’ and More Arbitrary Discipline

| February 16, 2016

flagler schools discipline

Aside from raising issues of district ‘obstruction’ regarding public records and disciplinary records, an NAACP letter points to alleged problems at Buddy Taylor Middle School, though top school officials dispute the claim. (© FlaglerLive)

In a terse, six-page letter to School Superintendent Jacob Oliva, the president of the Flagler County Branch of the NAACP accuses the school district of “willfully, intentionally and arbitrarily” engaging in “an unlawful pattern” to keep parents from examining evidence behind the suspension of students from schools and buses and claims there’s been an “increasing number” of such suspensions affecting black students. The letter also paints an alarming picture of conditions at Buddy Taylor Middle School, where students “are in the hallways running, yelling, traveling in mob groups” and insulting teachers. (See the full letter below.)

Oliva and School Board Chairperson Colleen Conklin were “surprised” by the Feb. 15 letter. Both said they were unaware of serious disciplinary issues at Buddy Taylor such as those described, and both were under the impression that relations with the NAACP were cordial and productive and the district’s efforts to reduce out of school suspensions were working, with the trend pointing downward in that regard.

In June, the school board ratified a settlement agreement with the Southern Poverty Law Center that ended a three-year complaint focused on the district’s record of disproportionately punishing black students. The agreement, backed by the NAACP, put in place remedies and goals addressing concerns and creating a quarterly, public forum where disciplinary matters are analyzed and updated. Two such meetings have taken place since the agreement was ratified, with Linda Sharpe Matthews, the president of the local NAACP, attending one of the meetings, and describing the process as productive and useful, but incomplete.

In an interview this afternoon, Sharpe Matthews acknowledged that overall suspensions in the district have fallen, not risen.

linda sharpe matthews

The NAACP’s Linda Sharpe Matthews. (© FlaglerLive)

“They have,” Sharpe Matthews said, “but in the cases that we are complaining about, and there’s two or three specific cases, where due process has not been given to either the student or the parent, they were arbitrarily suspended on hearsay. And there’s a videotape we want to see to challenge the suspension and it has not been made available to us or the parents of the child. They say it’s confidential.”

Oliva said student education and disciplinary records are made available to the students’ parents, minus information that relates to other students. “Some of the things they’re asking for would be direct FERPA violation,” he said. “Just because people want to request certain data or access information doesn’t mean they’re allowed to have it.”

In the case of video tapes, Sharpe Matthews said the parents were told they could not have access to the footage because it involved other students as well, whose privacy is protected under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known by its acronym, FERPA. It is common, however, in such situations, for the identifying facial features of students to be blurred out—the technology is readily available, and routinely used—protecting privacy while letting evidence speak for itself. It’s not clear why the district in this case has not acted accordingly. (Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney who was among the recipients of the Sharpe Matthews letter and who handles public record requests for the district, did not return calls this afternoon. The school board was meeting at 5 and 6 p.m.)

“There’s a time for dialogue and then there’s a time for action,” says the NAACP’s Linda Sharpe Matthews.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to really review it in great detail,” Conklin said of the letter, minutes before starting the evening meetings. “I’d like a third party opinion on what they’re requesting in regards to exemptions to FERPA laws, because the bottom line is we can’t violate student and family rights to privacy, and so I think it would be beneficial for everyone if there was a possibility of having a third party that’s independent to weigh in.”

Oliva says he will be analyzing Sharpe Matthews’s concerns point by point and matching up her claims with available evidence before setting up a meeting with her and others concerned.

Sharpe Matthews points to “the school district’s gratuitous and extra-judicial refusal to provide access to educational records relative to our investigations,” then sets out eight demands for access to records, with notice that the NAACP is ready to seek out arbitration if the dispute continues, or to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office.

“The school district has had a really good working relationship with the NAACP, to sit at the table and evaluate concerns and put some great innovative practices in place,” Oliva said, referring especially to the process started in the wake of the Southern Poverty Law Center agreement. He stressed that the total number of days for out of school suspensions has been dropping. “I’m a little surprised at this letter because I think we’ve been always been able to sit down and have great conversations.”

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Sharpe Matthews said the letter should not be a surprise to the district. “Everything we complained about we have reached out to try to resolve before this letter of dispute went out,” Sharpe Matthews said.  And this is what happens when your phone calls go unanswered or your complaint is ignored. There’s a time for dialogue and then there’s a time for action, and when you feel you’re not being dealt with fairly, or things aren’t being done in a timely manner, or when there’s a detriment to children, then we have to step in. I’m not complaining about overall progress. There is progress. And we have said that. But in these specific cases, something has to be done immediately.”

The letter mentions the case of three students. Of issues at Buddy Taylor Middle School, Sharpe Matthews wrote: “We understand that teachers and staff are not feeling safe at the school, and that school board member Andy Dance was present at their Safety Meeting. We understand that student behavior has gotten worse and that students are increasingly more aggressive and disrespectful to the school staff.”

But that issue is not related to the cases of the three suspended students, Sharpe Matthews said.

Oliva said he was not aware of such issues at Buddy Taylor, and that all schools have safety meetings regularly, whether to talk about weather emergencies, prepare for active-assailant situations or discuss discipline. Buddy Taylor’s meeting was not out of the ordinary. “We’re always looking to review to make sure students are safe, because when they’re safe and on task they’re going to achieve better.”

“My understanding from what I’m hearing is that this has been a great year for Buddy Taylor,” Conklin said of the Buddy Taylor claims. “So that was news to me.”

30 Responses for “To School Officials’ Surprise, NAACP Accuses District of ‘Obstruction’ and More Arbitrary Discipline”

  1. K says:

    If a student is being suspended or disciplined in any manner, their parents should have the right to review all documentation including audio and video that support the discipline. It is alarming that the district is withholding such evidence from the accused.

    Several years back (two or three superintendents ago) my child was physically accosted by someone on a Flagler County School bus. When we reported it, the school administrator immediately invited us to the school and into his office to review the video from the bus.

    I don’t know if the laws have changed or if we were treated better because we are white but whatever the cause, hopefully the powers that be will remember that America operates on an innocent until proven guilty premise. For everyone, no exemptions.

  2. Van Sertima says:

    The same incidents are also occurring in Indian Trails Middleschool, this is a small circle that should not be surprised by the accusations.

  3. Leigh Ann Silcox says:

    Omg it’s about freaking time somebody said something I have been screaming this for 3 years I hope they speak on behalf of all the students and show there actions are unfair I have had my 5th grader out of school 4 times due to bus suspensions that I was not allowed to view video but the other parent was because she works for the school I have pleaded with school board to please help me with finding an alternative punishment due to the fact I do not have a driver license and can’t drive him to school and I would be forced to keep him home for a week at a time and I’m told by both principle and vice principal oh well so he has missed 4 weeks of school this year for incidents that I’m not sure were entirely just on my child I have made phone calls and visits to the school board and still have yet to be helped please let this be the voice we as parents need

  4. r&r says:

    If the children were disciplined at home they would’nt have to be at school. Why is it focused on the blacks? Is it because they are the most offensive?

  5. Amazed says:

    Here it comes, they want to create a ‘protected class” within the school system that will ‘entitle” only African-American students. Whats next a threatened legal action for ‘failed grades”?

  6. Brian says:

    Yes, of course, let’s blame the poor graduation rate on the teachers and the schools! If the teachers and school administrators can just hold on and persevere until these young thugs are sixteen, they will begin dropping out and graduating to robbery, car-jacking, home invasion, killing and the general wreaking of havoc on society that we see and read in the news every day. Until then, we can only sympathize with the plight of the teachers and hope that they will be safe.

  7. confidential says:

    I totally agree..that parents have the right to see the evidence and the technology is available to blur the face of the students id in the video. Oliva is wrong denying the parents that right!

  8. CITIZEN EYES says:

    Someone needs to investigate not only how these issues are handled but also how favoritism and the “good ole boy network/in-crowd” thing still works in Flagler County Schools. Sad stories of people being pushed out of their job or a contract not being renewed because a superior wants to hire a friend. Everyone is neatly placed to keep questions at a minimum and the facade going. Kids or no kids school taxes are the biggest tax we pay outside of property we have the right to demand transparency without push back or complaint.

  9. Outsider says:

    Well, maybe someone actually read my comment in the article mentioned, because that is exactly what’s happening. I can’t for the life of me figure out what the hell the NAACP is complaining about. The vast majority of major disciplinary issues, including fights and mouthing off to the teachers is done by black students. That being said, it is perfectly logical that more black kids are being disciplined for behavioral problems. It’s not the school’s fault who misbehaves, but they certainly have a duty to protect the other students and teachers from marauding bands of thugs, no matter what color they are. MLK made what is, in my opinion one of the most profound statements ever uttered, including the notion that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin but on the content of their character. All the brilliant minds at the NAACP don’t seem to subscribe to this, nor have any appreciation or respect for what MLK did. All they want to do is perpetuate the myth that black kids are singled out because they are black. WRONG, They are misbehaving, and their behavior is why I pulled my child out of that school. I don’t blame the school; I blame the kids who are ruining it for ALL kids who are trying to learn. If the NAACP gets their way, then it’s guaranteed that this will become a failing school, forcing kids of all races to miss out on the opportunity for an education, all because a few parents don’t have the slightest idea how or desire to raise their creations properly. All the threats being made by the NAACP won’t change that.

  10. Sherry says:

    Just read the discriminatory comments here by amazed and brian. . . if the “powers that be” within our educational system have 1/10 the amount of bias against people of color, then no wonder the NACCP is holding their feet to the fire.

    After reading the comments by other parents, it sounds as if the with holding of evidence and stonewalling by officials is a wide spread problem that needs immediate attention.

    I hope flaglerlive will continue their investigation of this situation and publish follow on story or two. Our community deserves answers and solutions!

  11. Dave says:

    If a child is suspended from school 99.9% of the time the child actually did something to deserve that suspension black or white. Most parents would not believe that their little darling did something wrong in class or on school grounds. As at home “they don’t act that way”, well if they did the parents would slap them into next week.

    The poor graduation rate, well that falls on the parents and the student. If within that class of the child that did not graduate other children in said class graduated that means the teacher did their job. Parents and the student have to play their parts as well, homework, study and commitment from both.

  12. r&r says:

    These thugs with poor grade are probably home schooled. Instead of building more schools build more prisons

  13. Jack Howell, PhD says:

    Hate to say it. Perhaps it is time to have teachers start wearing cameras like the police do. Then the truth would come forth as to the true behavior of mom’s little angel. After review of the film footage, let the chips fall as they may!

  14. Anon says:

    The bottom line is this county and city is not what it was before and we as a people need to adjust to that . The blame should be placed first in the student then his or her parent and the accountability should be focused on the school staff to include the sheriffs office that patrol these campuses . That school is oozing with diversity and honestly that’s a good thing however the teachers and admin as well as county leaders can’t ignore the problem of diversity and the need for social interaction . If there are mobs of any kids no matter what color roaming around the hall way… Where is the school Deputy ? It may not be his responsibility to teach a child to behave but it is his oath to protect the community and maintain good order in any environment and maybe ..just maybe provide mentorship to some of these kids who are problems . Diversity is something we can not overlook as parents and if the school and county officials don’t properly address. It and proactively seek solutions then we are going to continue to have an elevated racial and social tension over something the adults in that school can control.the school officials should not be getting 3rd party complaints about mobs of kids roaming the hall when you have law enforcement on scene as well as respected adults who perform as teachers and principals . This is being made into something extreme when it can be corrected easily with such issues as video review .the officials need to come together immediately and find a solution and critique the presence of the school resource Deputy and their responsibilities and ability to actual connect and impact these kids as well as establish guidelines for teachers because when I read ” roaming mobs of kids roaming the hallway” I assume the kids are running the school and the adults are there just to get paid …

  15. confidential says:

    Students performance are very negative affected if singled out by selective enforcement of school disciplinary rules.
    And school officials just like any politician more than occasionally exercise favoritism… unfortunately.
    I have seeing that during my kids school years back then.

  16. About Time says:

    It is about time the news media post an honest account of the state of our schools in Flagler County. The conditions at BTMS have been deteriorating all year. Teachers are actually being harmed trying to break up fights. Male teachers are forced to leave their classrooms to help female teachers when the office is not responsive to calls for assistance on the radio. The superintendent and board member clearly need to get out of the castle (aka county office building) and spend time in their schools. Speak to any teacher or student from BTMS and they speak of the out of control behavior. The fact that they are so unaware is extremely disturbing. I hope the board member speaks honestly about what was revealed at the safety meeting at BTMS. Teachers took a risk being honest since the new principal is close friends with the superintendent.

  17. Teacher says:

    The parents that think their child never does anything wrong are the ones that have the worst behaved children. These parents are always complaining about the actions of the teachers and administrators instead of discipline and teaching their children how to act. The problem is that people don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, and too many people play the race card.

  18. r&r says:

    About Time & Teacher, you nailed it.

  19. Jp says:

    Just back from Japan, this never happens there, student are very respectful to teachers. Culture matters, Blacks lack culture and personal discipline, and always blame others for their treatment, when the problem is right in the mirror…….I challenge you to fine a successful Black community world wide……you wont find one….

  20. PC Outlaw says:

    They don’t know what is happening in the schools, must be busy knocking down buildings and supporting the “Save the Swim Club movement”.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Jp, that was an incredibly racist comment to make. Of course culture matters, both at a national level and more a local one. However, it is not that “Blacks lack culture”, as you say. Everyone has a culture, and black culture is no less respectful than any other. However, the culture at that particular school seems to not emphasize respect, at least from these reports. It’s not a race issue, it’s a larger cultural issue that transcends race, one that is not easily fixed. I challenge you to be more respectful yourself, and not publish racially judgmental and insensitive comments.

  22. Jeneen says:

    In reading these posts, it is obvious that there is an immediate need that screams for attention. However, it appears that the true issue is being diluted because the concern is more on the race off the students versus the actual issue. Nevertheless, I am completely floored by the ignorance of individuals as it relates to the Black race. It’s very disrespectful to lump every one of a particular race into one category. No wonder some of the children are judgmental, critical and down right racists because of the upbringing they are receiving. As a Black female, I am completely disappointed. I have to pray more because the dream that Dr. Martin L. King spoke of is still the goal we should all desire to see achieved. We are all God’s children and the race of someone does not make them better or worse. Working together as a united front to address the issues would be more effective.

  23. Tired says:

    First of all, I don’t understand how a School Superintendent not know of what’s going on on in the schools within his/her district.
    It’s obvious that the behavior the youth of today demonstrate in and out of the school system is learned behavior. The social media has a lot of influence on our youth as well as their peers (both black and white). When parents “used to be” allowed to discipline their children, that right was taken away from them by reports and complaints of “child abuse” by the teachers. Now that it’s proven to be non effective and inconvenient for the teachers, let’s blame the parents and kick the kids out of school and throw them in jail. The public school system helped to create this problem and they need to admit it and apologize to the families for overstepping their boundaries when it comes to “healthy” parent/child disciplinary actions.

  24. Lin says:

    Disturbing article and comments
    The safety of students and staff needs to be of importance
    But WHY is this news to School Board member Conklin or any Board Member?
    These situations can grow into something explode fast

  25. I/M/O says:

    In all fairness the past Principal at the Buddy Taylor School just “Resigned” this past year.

    You have to give the new Principal Nathan Lovelette more than 6 months to turn the school around. I/M/O Superintendent Oliva knows exactly what went on at the Buddy Taylor School in the past and has chosen the right man to fix it.

    Time to cut the Superintendent and new Principal some slack. Stop blaming them for the failures of the past 2 years Repairing the damage done in the pas will take some time.

  26. Gee says:

    As far as communities go, show me a white community as you speak of and you will find the same problem or worse, read your paper, everywhere it’s happening. Bet off the top of your head you can name at least 5.
    (ALL WHITE) how tragic they were.

  27. CITIZEN EYES says:

    If the School district does what it’s supposed to do and treat people equally according to it’s own policies there would be no room for a bigoted slant of opinion in the matter. These off the wall comments of how black kids are the cause show it. Which is that, the majority that are in charge have less tolerance and preconceived, biased notions on who is guilty of what. Whether it’s crime or school suspension if a white demographic continuously gets a pass for the same infraction that a black demographic gets penalized for of course black people are going to show up in the stats more. So for Olivia to say “they will explore the technology to blur images” is comical. They should have already spent the money to do that. If a surveillance camera is in a school and it records a minor it’s a public place no one is protected. Don’t confuse made up school policy with law. I guarantee faculty saw the videos but a parent can’t?
    This is nothing new there are cases all across America where schools have don this exact same thing of running their own little kingdoms. The staff is taking it’s queue from the schools leaders of having this exclusive, close knit do for “our own” attitude which in turn shows amongst the students. To act as if black kids are the plague of Flagler county schools is pitiful commentary. This was the last county in the US to legitimately integrate, a black school was burnt to the ground in this county and to this day no one has been charged. There are people in this community not even 50 years old who remember being elementary school kids having to carrying their own wooden desk from one school to the other when it finally became forced integration.

    You have people like JP giving a thumbs up to Japan. Hey JP did black people bomb Pearl Harbor? No Japan doesn’t have a youth to adult disrespect problem but the kids jump out of windows and commit suicide because every class doesn’t produce an “A” that’s the pressure they have on them.
    When white America begins to take responsibility for every disgusting atrocity it has benefited from and gets real about the damage it’s forefathers have caused that still aren’t rectified then black people will take responsibility for every wrong doing a black person does. Until then start cleaning up your own house.

  28. Tired says:

    It’s very disturbing when a black student behaves inappropriately, he/she receives the extreme allowable punishment. However, when a white student behaves inappropriately, he/she is “suddenly diagnosed” with some form of mental illness or disease and is immediately turned over to their parents. But black students are immediately suspended, expelled and thrown in juvenile detention developing a record for something they did as a child. When I was a child I acted as a child; now that I’m older, I put away childish things. I’m so grateful that we didn’t have these laws against us when we were growing up. The black youth of today really don’t have a chance to develop into what they are purposed to become because people in this society aren’t tolerant of kids being kids. Most teachers today are not suitable for teaching our youth. They are only exploiting the kids for their personal benefits (pay check and pension) and the students are aware of it. They know which teacher cares and which teacher doesn’t and its usually the ones that don’t care for the students who incur the most problems.

  29. Outsider says:

    Tired, do you have any evidence to support your claim that black kids are “immediately” expelled while white kids are coddled? One commenter above claims her child was disciplined multiple times, which right there indicates a chronic problem. I also find it difficult to believe that teachers are there to take advantage of the students, as you claim; in fact, it’s more likely to be the other way around, as the evidence indicates. The real problem, as I see it, is the parents’ abdication of any responsibility in raising their child. If you get pregnant, and have no job, no husband, and no way or will of spending the time necessary to raise a child properly, then the government immediately swoops in and pays for everything. If you don’t want to raise your kid the responsibility is thrown on the school system, bringing the kids in earlier in life, hence the VPK. You can drop your kids off early, pick them up late, the school will feed them three square meals, and it probably won’t be long before they can sleep overnight as well. It’s no wonder the parents have no idea what their kids are doing as they barely see them, and I’m sure there are many who don’t see them at all. In spite of all this, you blame the school and the teachers for the kids’ behavior. Let’s put the fault where it belongs, squarely on the parents.

  30. Anonymous says:

    In any case, the schools should be working with the parents, no matter the race, sex or age of the child involved and if the parent refuses to cooperate or respond, that should be reported to CPS as neglect.

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