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School district approves new code of conduct

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jun 16, 2021

news@breezenewspapers.com

After lengthy conversation and various viewpoints shared from the public, the School Board of Lee County has approved next year’s code of conduct.

The motion carried with Board members Melisa Giovannelli and Betsy Vaughn opposing.

“Honestly, this is actually surprising to me because the conversation tonight has really changed my mind on the way I am going to vote on this. Surprisingly I am hearing arguments from let’s call it, both sides, on why there are problems in this code of conduct,” Vaughn said. “I believe there is a big problem and I decided I will not support this code of conduct.”

After the current year’s controversy over a classroom poster contributed from an advocacy group, the code again bogged down on how to present policies pertaining to non-discrimination.

Vaughn, along with many other board members brought attention to page eight of the proposed code, “statement of non-discrimination policy,” deemed “a very dense paragraph.” Many board members felt it should be broken down into bulleted points, which later resulted in that section of the code of conduct being reformatted.

“I don’t think it goes along with the format of most of the rest of the code,” she said. “I think we are missing the boat and cheating an important section of our students in not providing examples and bulleted points, but instead providing this one very densely written paragraph.”

Giovannelli said she thinks the board needs to listen to the community, make additional changes and modify the code of conduct in a way that will bring all parties together.

“I want the people to know they came here tonight and we heard them,” she said.

Board Attorney Kathy Dupuy-Bruno said the district is required per statue to have a code of conduct with the purpose to advise students of what kind of behaviors are expected of them. She said the Equality Florida poster that brought a great deal of attention to the code of conduct has been removed.

“There is a policy for anti-bullying and anti-discrimination in the code of conduct as required by statute and the Department of Education,” she said.

There was a great deal of discussion to hold off on the vote Tuesday night, as many board members wanted to take another look at the code and make additional revisions,

Ultimately, the delay was denied 5-2.

When the board was discussing this topic, they were reminded that to make changes they would have to go through the rule making process again, which would include a briefing and public hearings, a minimum of 28 days. A code of conduct has to be in place by the start of the school year, Aug. 10.

It was asked if it was logistically possible to push the code off for another 28 days.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said the board needed to come together and provide very specific information and work on the policy itself.

“If you give general direction, we are going to go and work on it and come back here and come to the same place,” he said. “I think we are at a point, we don’t know and we don’t want to take educated guesses. It needs to be what you want it to be.”

Board member Chris Patricca said the code of conduct has not been rushed as they have had briefings, first and second readings and they have taken public comment every step of the way.

“We have been going through this and seeing you all a long time,” Board member Gwyn Gittens said of attendees who have spoken during many public comments over the last several months. “One part of me thinks there is nothing we haven’t heard from any of you already that would make a difference in this policy. We have heard everybody multiple times; at least I have.”

Dupuy-Bruno also shared information about House Bill 241, Parents Bill of Rights, which will become effective July 1, 2021, as it was signed and approved by the governor. She explained the bill establishes what the State Legislature deemed to be fundamental parental rights with respect to education and healthcare.

It was “created to consolidate many of the rights already established. It explicitly strengthens these rights and requires school districts to acknowledge the supremacy,” Dupuy-Bruno said.

She said the new law will become a policy within the Lee County School District and will go through first and second reading, which will include comments from the public.