Student's history raises questions over alternative school options
PALM COAST, Fla. - The teen accused of beating a teacher’s aide in Flagler County has been in and out of the juvenile court system for similar events. He was arrested for battery three separate times in 2019, and spent time in Flagler County’s youth diversion program.
A former school teacher told us she wasn’t surprised hearing that. "Forty years ago, when I started teaching, they didn’t allow anything like that at all. The student would be dismissed from school. Now, though, it’s been very lenient," the teacher said. "After a first or second offense, it should be looked at more seriously."
The teenager arrested for the attack lives in a group home. His caretaker declined to comment.
Andrew Spar with the Florida Education Association says the boy is clearly troubled. "One, students need to be held accountable for their actions. Two, we need to be having a conversation about what particular supports were in place for this particular student or any student where they have shown histories where they have had past altercations with others."
Flagler County used to have a school called Everest Alternative School that was specifically tailored to students who either couldn’t function in a traditional classroom environment, had been charged with a crime, or were considered too violent to attend classes on traditional campuses.
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A woman told FOX 35 News her boyfriend was in a similar program. "He told me that it just helped him focus more. Because some kids, they just need a different schooling," she said. "Seems like this kid needs anger management."
In Volusia County, students struggling in those same ways go to Highbanks Learning Center or Riverview Learning Center. Orange County has the John Polk Alternative School and Eugene Gregory Memorial Youth Academy and Consequence Unit. But in Flagler, voters failed to pass a 50-cent millage property tax levy to pay for the school back in 2013. It would’ve cost homeowners under $50 a year. At first, its budget was majorly slashed, and the School Board voted to close it altogether in 2016.
"I hope that this would be an impetus to have that discussion again by the school district," said Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly.
The Florida Education Association has been asking for $2 billion a year in extra funding – something Spar thinks could have helped this student and this teacher’s aide. "We want to make sure that students are getting the education they deserve and need. I think what we see here is a failure to make sure the support they need – the mental health, the counseling."
The former schoolteacher FOX 35 spoke with is on the fence about the concept of those special schools. "Isolating kids in a separate school not with typically-developing kids is not always a good idea. I think possibly hiring more social workers or psychologists to pull the student out of class to help them."
Flagler County’s Sheriff says he supports the State Attorney’s decision to prosecute this 17-year-old as an adult, but he also wants more funding for different support systems as a preventative measure. "What I really hope comes out of this is that the district will discuss reimplementing their specific school if you will for youthful offenders – especially the violent youthful offenders."