Department of Education accuses Lee County School Board of trying to avoid new laws

Published: May 18, 2022 5:32 PM EDT
Updated: May 19, 2022 11:41 AM EDT

The state is laying down the law on our largest school district. The Department of Education says Lee County School Board members tried to get around enforcing new, controversial laws in schools.

The Department of Education (DOE) sent them a specific and aggressive letter. In no uncertain terms, the interim commissioner of the state Department of Education accuses Lee County schools of discussing “Ways to circumvent the upcoming requirements set forth” by three new Florida laws: On critical race theory, parental rights, and curriculum transparency.

“We must follow the law,” said Lee County School Board Attorney Kathy Bruno.

In the meeting in question, Bruno makes it clear that the school board should always follow the law.

WINK News listened to all four hours of the meeting in question, and it’s not clear what the DOE heard that led the commissioner to write the letter and accuse the board of trying to break the law.

We asked the DOE what triggered the letter, but they have not answered, only calling it a “proactive measure.”

However, board members did ask questions about how to enforce the new state laws. Questions like: what if they conflict with federal laws?

“Balance that with Title 9, Title 6, all federal laws, and the Department of Ed, so it’s vast,” said board member Betsy Vaughn.

What if the DOE doesn’t release guidance on implementing the laws before the school year?

“Is there a statute of limitations for implementation?” asked board member Gwynetta Gittens during the meeting.

Some board members and their lobbyists worry about how the new laws would impact teachers and students.

School Board Chair Debbie Jordan said the board follows the law even when certain members disagree with the law.

“And we are in the process of making sure that our policies are written as such, and they will be brought back to the board,” said Jordan.

The Lee County School Board also asked the DEO what comment specifically triggered the letter.

The school board also said they have not received a response.

WINK News heard back from board members Betsy Vaughn, Gwyn Gittens, Mary Fischer, and Chris Patricca. All denied any attempt to work around state law.