School’s reporting of potentially violent incidents could lead to student safety issues

After the Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, the state completely revamped its school safety protocols.

A WINK News investigation revealed at least one Southwest Florida school might not have properly reported violent or disruptive incidents to the state.

We uncovered incidents at a local elementary school that were never coded as SESIR incidents to the Florida Department of Education, potentially putting children and faculty in danger.

SESIR is short for “School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting.”

Peggy Slichter has been an administrator with Lee County Schools for more than 20 years.

“It has been my passion,” Slichter says. “I absolutely love helping the staff, the teachers, working with parents, students.”

Slichter was transferred to Manatee Elementary for an assistant principal position last December.

Shortly after arriving, she began to feel uneasy.

She says when it came to student discipline and reporting incidents involving students, Manatee leadership — specifically Principal Scott LeMaster — wanted to downplay issues.

“There was a lot of red flags that made me start to look into things to see hey, what’s going on,” Slichter says. “That’s when I started to see incidents as far as SESIR, there were incidents that weren’t coded correctly.”

The SESIR system was created in 1995, and updated after the Parkland shootings.

Faculty stops and reports any serious issues to school administration, like fighting, drugs or threats, and intimidation.

Admins then review the facts with a threat assessment team and the student involved, before it’s potentially reported to the state.

“It’s all about safety. The student needs help obviously if they’re doing these things,” Slichter explains.

Slichter tells us more incidents occurred, and her concerns increased, so she continued to push for what she felt was appropriate reporting that would keep everyone safe.

Eventually, the principal stripped her of her reporting abilities altogether. WINK News was shown an email that seems to show LeMaster removing her from the process.

The email reads in part: “with regards to discipline, designees and I will handle. I will not need you to enter referrals.”

Lee County records show that Manatee Elementary reported zero SESIR cases to the state for the 2020-2021 school year.

But Slichter walked us through several documented incidents that she says clearly fit the state’s requirements for reporting.

“I pulled up the SESIR reports,” Slichter says. “I discovered a lot of the incidents that were happening were not state-reported.”

The reports detail several incidents at Manatee Elementary. Some were threats of potentially violent and even deadly behavior by students.

From some of the reports:

  • “Student made a verbal threat toward two other students, and also placed his hands around another student’s neck.”
  • “The student showed a BB gun that he had in his backpack to other students in the class.”
  • “There were three students that stated they were going to blow up the school with a bomb.”

Instead of being reported to the state as SESIR incidents, Manatee Elementary administration classified these events as lesser violations, categorized as “other” or “safety violation.”

We read these documents to Max Schachter… a member of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, and father to Alex Schachter, one of the 17 people killed in the Parkland shooting.

It’s really upsetting to hear this,” Schachter says. “It tells me that there is a negative culture on that campus. Schools cannot be safe if they have a negative culture and climate.”

Slichter agrees; “My concern is that if something happens and it’s not reported, nobody’s gonna know about it. If this kid continues and this keeps happening, and he goes to middle school and takes a gun to school, they’re not going to know that he’s done it before. That’s why SESIR is important. Because the state will see this.”

“It’s certainly upsetting to hear that a culture of underreporting seems to be prevalent in Lee County,” Schachter says. “It makes me even more convinced that we need to put some checks and balances in place.”

At one point the district told us they investigated Slichter’s allegations and found no wrongdoing. They later changed their response and said the investigation is ongoing.

We’ve also reached out to Principal LeMaster directly for an interview but he has not responded to our request.

During the reporting of this story, we’ve spoken with several members of the Parkland Safety Commission. They say they’re concerned about underreporting in Lee County and plan to bring it up at their next meeting on Sept. 27th – WINK News to be there.

After the Parkland shooting, Max Schachter created a nonprofit organization in honor of his late son. It’s named “Safe Schools for Alex.”

Reporter:Peter Fleischer
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