Parents, Teachers Clash During Fiery Board Meeting, Stratton Asked to Step Down
Last updated 8/21/2023 at 11:34am
BROOKSVILLE – There was no shortage of jaw-dropping moments during last night's Hernando County School Board meeting, as parents, teachers, and board members continue to spar over the Fox Chapel Middle School incident, but that's not the only issue causing tempers to flare.
During last night's Hernando County School Board meeting, parents voiced concerns over teachers pushing their "woke" ideological beliefs on students. Teachers defended their agenda of reinforcing inclusion and diversity in the classroom, claiming they are only trying to provide a welcoming environment for children of all genders, and sexual orientation, and that's where parents say they are going too far.
After the award ceremonies and board formalities, you could almost hear the bell ring as round one of citizen comments began.
"We are close to losing it all," said Jen Cook. "[5-year-olds] must first be taught right from wrong before making their own choices and older students are taught that morality is determined by their own feelings and decisions are made according to their own wants. Children are left with no moral foundation, having never been taught, and a lot of confusion in making moral decisions." Cook says, "There is an effort to eliminate American values and the constitution, disparage our founders and rewrite our history."
Sarah Smith says she is a parent of a "gender non-conforming student" and president of the Florida Rainbow Alliance. "Moms of Liberty, you are kidding yourself if you think none of your children identify as LGBTQ, they're just too afraid to tell you." Smith goes on to say, "leave our affirming teachers alone, they could be the one person keeping your child alive and giving them hope."
Prior to last night's meeting, R News learned that a Winding Waters teacher showed an inappropriate movie to her 5th grade students. HCSD Spokesperson Karen Jordan confirmed that Jenna Barbee, the daughter of Fifth Judicial Circuit Judge Don Barbee, allowed her students to watch the Disney movie Strange World, which displays a homosexual male character talking about his feelings for another male character. Jordon says this movie will not be shown in the future and that the district's Professional Standards Dept is currently reviewing the matter to see if further corrective action is required. Barbee is currently on suspension for showing the movie.
Barbee took to the podium in defense of her actions, claiming she is a first-year teacher and that she makes mistakes. She goes on to attack School Board member Shannon Rodriguez for interfering and contacting her father about the incident. "When I got home, I was confronted by my father for my behavior... Because Shannon called my dad, from one politician to another to tell him about my wrong-doings... What happened is that a school board member used her position to promote her political agenda, that should be illegal, that should be why you are removed from the board."
Earlier this week, R News reported that another Winding Waters teacher was removed from the classroom after she got into an altercation with an 8th grade student over inappropriate artwork hung on the classroom wall. Michelle Seeholzer scolded the student and called him "homophobic" for removing a picture of a lesbian cartoon character that had the words, "I'm a lesbian" and "I'm a woman kisser" written on the drawing. The full story is available on the R News website.
Moms for Liberty Vice President Monty Floyd says, "Parents are fed up with the attacks on parent's rights and the efforts of political activists, a very vocal and unstable minority in and out of our schools, who groom, indoctrinate, and otherwise target our children."
For the first time since the Fox Chapel incident took place, Fawn Renczkowski spoke out about the incident involving her spouse, Ashlee Renczkowski. "The far-right extremists and hate groups would prefer fake news, misinformation, half-truths, and whole lies, and anything that promotes as being pawns in their political games." Mocking Christianity, Renczkowski says, "In John 8:32 Jesus says the truth will set you free, so here I am doing the Lord's work." She claims her spouse was targeted because of her gender identity and that she has been bullied by hate groups, namely Moms for Liberty. Renczkowski, who was not present during the incident says, "The truth is, she never threatened anyone... The truth is, someone betrayed their badge and promise to serve and protect, because it was more important to hurt someone because they are different."
At the end of citizen comments, board member Rodriguez lashed out at Barbee, accusing her of playing the victim and stating, "The real victims are the children... It's not the teacher's job to impose their beliefs on a child. Movies like this assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classroom." Rodriguez goes on to say, "You put your father in the center of our situation. You opened the door to his name to be used as a benefit to you. Later, you decided, when it didn't work for you, you decided to use your father as a sword against me."
Rodriguez says this is a pattern behavior by some teachers in Hernando County Schools, citing a recent incident where she had to intervene and stop a drag queen named Shasta McNastie from emceeing a culinary event at Nature Coast Technical High School.
The night's finale couldn't be any more shocking, as Mark Johnson closed the meeting with a motion to have Superintendent John Stratton removed from the district. Johnson started out by citing the hundreds of students who were absent from Fox Chapel following news of the incident. Johnson says between April 17th and April 28th, there were approximately 100 students absent on a daily basis. Johnson didn't hold back in blaming Stratton for his inability to lead the district. "Our district lacks leadership. The leadership has led to decreased transparency and diminished communication. I'm therefore making a motion for a vote of no confidence in our Superintendent John Stratton." Rodriguez quickly seconded the motion but that followed by Linda Prescott issuing her own motion to table the decision for discussion. Chairman Gus Guadagnino and Board member Susan Duval agreed, moving the decision to a later date.
Stratton responded, "I'm surprised, well I'm not surprised because you haven't really communicated with me that you've had any issues with me. You've never indicated anything about my leadership style, so that does surprise me and we've worked together before, in fact, you hired me. But I'm not shocked because I knew this was coming. Because you were overheard telling Mrs. Rodriguez last week at the luncheon at Carrabbas, so I knew it was coming." Stratton went on to say, "So I would like to offer to this board, at any time, tonight in the future, if we need to go a different direction, I will voluntarily step aside." His statement was immediately met with someone in the crowd stating, "Leave! Leave!"
Note: Since R News broke the Fox Chapel story, we have received dozens of messages from parents who say their child has witnessed inappropriate behavior by a teacher or they have been victimized while in school. R News will continue to report on newsworthy incidents we receive but we may not be able to get to them all.
CLICK HERE to watch clips from last night's meeting.