When summer school opened with 350 students at Rymfire Elementary Monday, a Flagler County Sheriff’s school resource deputy was on duty, as has been the case in previous summer sessions. The deputy wasn’t there because the school district had originally planned to request the presence, but because Sheriff Rick Staly ordered that a deputy be posted there and the district be billed for it, whether the district wanted it or not.
“My youth services commander was told they did not want or need deputies,” Staly said late this afternoon. “I told my youth services commander, Cmdr. Jason Neat, that that was totally unacceptable, and I would deal with this. That’s also when I ordered him to immediately start staffing the summer schools.” He said the cost would “certainly” be less than $2,000.
As late as early afternoon on Monday, Thomas Wooleyhan, the district’s safety specialist, was writing the sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge–with whom Wooleyhan had been negotiating next year’s School Resource Deputy, or SRD, contract for weeks–to tell him a deputy was not required by law at summer session.
“So it is the district’s decision, it is not state law,” Wooleyhan wrote Strobridge a little after noon. “I would like to clarify, if FCSO would like to have someone to float in the schools and in the area, that would be greatly appreciated, however, we are not required to hire law enforcement based on the rule attached.”
Wooleyhan was responding to Strobridge, who’d written him less than half an hour earlier after finding out that “summer school is in session and there are no SRDs at the school.” Strobridge continued: “It is very concerning as school is in session and with the recent incidents, no provisions have been made for an SRD to be present. In the past, arrangements were made prior to the start to staff the schools on overtime.” Strobridge told Wooleyhan a deputy had already been dispatched, and that the Sheriff’s Office would bill the district.
Then Staly found out, and penned a letter to School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker, copying the rest of the board on it. Tucker would have gotten the letter around mid- to late afternoon. “In light of the recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas I find this to be an astonishing decision to save a few thousand dollars,” the sheriff write, citing Wooleyhan’s email as confirmation that the district had no intention to use deputies.
Conceding that the district makes its own policies for after-school safety assignments, “the District’s unilateral decision, made without the benefit of the expertise provided by the Sheriff’s Office is short-sighted,” Staly wrote. “The lack of an immediate law enforcement response creates an unnecessary risk to both your staff and the students attending summer school programs. Last year the District agreed to use and pay for School Resource Deputy’s at the summer school program. This was a prudent and proper decision then and should have been this year too.”
Wooleyhan in his email had justified last year’s presence of deputies in terms of numbers: there’d been “over 1000 students attending our summer school sessions” as students were catching up after Covid absences. He returned to the student-to-staff ratio there in a brief presentation to the School Board during an afternoon workshop today, when he was discussing the status of next year’s contract with the sheriff.
He credited Strobridge for currently reviewing the policy potentially to “strengthen it a little bit,” but he reiterated that it was up to school board policy to consider the ratio of staff members to students and other “safety measurables” to determine the need for a deputy or a safety officer during summer school hours. “It’s not in our contract but it is in school board policy,” Wooleyhan said.
“We don’t have to provide it,” he repeated at the workshop today, but as in such extra curricular activities as football games that draw larger crowds, “we have to provide possibly some sort of law enforcement.” He said he’s been working with summer school staff to find out the number of students attending. “We do have a school resource deputy that is on on that campus right now.” But he did not get into the tension between his office and the Sheriff’s Office over the matter, nor did any of the school board members ask him about it.
The sheriff said in his letter to Tucker that he’d ordered Strobridge to “ensure summer school classes are included in next year’s contract to address these concerns or I will not sign the contract.” Meanwhile he said he’d “not allow the District staff to make a decision that could compromise the security and safety of students. Seconds matter in active shooter incidents, which can happen anywhere and at any time.” So he would bill the district for the deputies regardless.
It was not clear today from Wooleyhan’s comments to the board or an interview with a district spokesman how the district went from Wooleyhan’s position in his email to Strobridge to going along with what amounts to the sheriff having to impose his deputies on the district, rather than, given the current climate, being invited in as a matter of course. A request late in the day to interview Wooleyhan was unfilled (it was after hours, a spokesman said).
“If there was some internal discussion, I’m not privy to that,” Staly said. “I can only tell you I wasn’t going to let kids go unprotected at a school to save a couple of thousand bucks, if that much. And they’ve always done it in prior years, so I don’t know what the change was this year. But I wasn’t going to tolerate it.” He said the schools will be staffed with non-overtime deputies wherever possible.
The session at Rymfire runs through July 15, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Another session opens at Matanzas High School, for older students, on July 6, running through July 23, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. That one will potentially have 140 students, according to Wooleyhan.
Jason Wheeler, the district spokesman, stressed the collaborative relationship that’s prevailed over the years–and continues to prevail–and said there was no interest in tit-for-tat deconstructions.
“What I can tell you,” he later wrote in an email, “is that conversations were happening between Tommy Woolyhan and staff with FCSO for the last couple of months. We reached out to the Office of Safe Schools to find out what our requirements are for summer learning programs and that was the information Tommy had. Our District Safety Specialist and FCSO staff then began working on how to get to a solution and had been in contact for the last few weeks as the school year was winding down. We were practically there at the time the email was sent by the Sheriff. As I stated to you, and as the Superintendent expressed in her communication, the bottom line is when our Extended School Year opened up yesterday morning, an SRD was on campus.”
Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt, who had also received the sheriff’s email, wrote Tucker and the rest of the board at 5:13 p.m., shortly after receipt of the Staly letter. She and Tucker had met earlier for a scheduled meeting. “I asked her about it, she said they were taking care of it,” Tucker said today of the Staly letter. “all I know the district is working with the sheriff to make sure we have adequate coverage.”
Mittlestadt sought to reassure board embers that “the safety and well-being of all of our students and employees is of the utmost importance to us and a top priority when providing educational opportunities.” She said Wooleyhan had been working with campus administrators to evaluate needs over the summer, but that “in comparison to the size and length of the summer program for 2020-21, this year’s educational opportunities will have fewer students and staff in attendance. However, in light of recent events, we recognize the FCSO’s expertise in providing a safe learning environment and are working towards having our programs staffed appropriately during our summer learning.”
Summer School Programs – Lack of On-Campus Security