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Sheriff Wayne Ivey announces a 'brand new day' for discipline at Brevard schools

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Standing outside the Brevard County Jail Complex, Sheriff Wayne Ivey announced what he called a "brand new day" for discipline at schools across the county.

Accompanied by school board chair Matt Susin, State Attorney Phil Archer and school service workers union representative Dolores Varney, Ivey on Monday decried what he called "the failure of the school discipline program here at Brevard Public Schools."

That, he promised, would change "starting right now." Ivey spoke in a live video posted on the sheriff's office Facebook page.

"If you're a little snot that's coming to our classes to be disruptive, you might want to find some place else to go to school because we're going to be your worst nightmare starting right now," Ivey said .

Ivey's video pronouncement about school discipline comes after the swearing in last week of two new school board members, both endorsed by the sheriff and Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Susin being chosen as the board chair.

It wasn't immediately clear what new policies would entail or how or when they would take effect.

Recent photo of school board member Matt Susin who intends to overhaul Brevard Public Schools' disciplinary policies along with help from Sheriff Wayne Ivey.
Recent photo of school board member Matt Susin who intends to overhaul Brevard Public Schools' disciplinary policies along with help from Sheriff Wayne Ivey.

School shakeup: Mullins agrees to step down as BPS superintendent in first meeting of new School Board

Schools suit: Federal court allows Brevard School Board speech rules, as Jenkins floats ending policy

Susin said the board will sit down with the unions and state attorney at an emergency meeting next week to create the "most prolific policy the school district's ever had." Any new policy would need to be approved by the school board. The current disciplinary plan was approved in February of this year.

"A few clowns can't follow the rules and they're messing it up for everybody," Ivey said. "Our teachers, our principals are actually powerless to do anything. With the current policy that's in place... our teachers have been handcuffed when it comes to school discipline."

Brevard schools have 5 disciplinary levels

Statistics from the Florida Department of Education show there were 1,470 criminal, violent or disruptive incidents reported at Brevard County schools for the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent year for which data is available.

For previous years, the number of incidents was 1,603 in 2019-2020; 2,274 for 2018-19; and 1,373 in 2017-18, according to the DOE.

Brevard County currently has commensurate suspension rates compared to other counties of similar sizes, according to the most recent DOE numbers.

There are currently five disciplinary levels at BPS and it is unclear how those might change after the emergency meeting being planned by Susin and Ivey:

  • Level 1: Relatively minor disruptions such as horseplay and cheating could lead to detention, a home visit or service work.

  • Level 2: Behaviors that significantly interfere with learning and student well-being such as leaving campus without permission or possessing tobacco might lead to mentoring or loss of privileges as corrective strategies.

  • Level 3: These are more serious disruptions and threats to health, safety and well-being like bullying and fighting, and may prompt an in-school suspension.

  • Level 4: Unacceptable incidents at this level may cause damage to property and endanger students such as vandalism, drug use or robbery. Examples of corrective strategies include out-of-school suspension or alternative placement.

  • Level 5: These are the most serious behaviors that can endanger students or cause significant property damage. Some of these actions are bomb threats, battery and weapon possession and could prompt actions such as expulsion and being reported to law enforcement.

Russell Bruhn, spokesman for Brevard Public Schools, said those policies were still in effect and being carried out by teachers and administrators at all schools in the county.

School board member Jennifer Jenkins said she agreed student behavior is a problem and educators are saying discipline is not being implemented. But she said she was confused why Susin, who she said voted for the district's current discipline policy in February and a previous version in 2019, was only now speaking out.

"Student discipline has always been a problem. You could have taken that press conference and inserted into any county at any time and it would have been applicable," Jenkins said. "Educators are saying to me that discipline is not being implemented," and not that it needs to be changed wholesale, Jenkins said.

"This is just a show and a stunt. If you actually felt this was a problem, they could have done something about it for years," she added. "Teachers at alternative learning facilities believe too many students and the wrong students are being sent to them. They're already overwhelmed and this is only going to make it worse."

School board member Katye Campbell said any changes will have to go through the policy revision process and follow open records Sunshine Laws. New board members Gene Trent was unavailable to comment and Megan Wright did not return requests for comment .

School support staff discouraged, union says

Delores Varney, who represents the union for bus drivers and other school support staff, said school employees are being bitten, choked and attacked as an everyday occurrence. "They are so discouraged because nothing is being done with the students," Varney said on the video.

School administrators will be freed up to hand out punishments they deem necessary, Ivey said. Students who want to act out feel empowered, Ivey said, because they don't believe there will be consequences.

"Quite frankly, they're not worried about getting in trouble. They know nothing's gonna happen to them. They know they're not going to be given after school detention, they're not going to be suspended. They're not going to be expelled or like in the old days they're not gonna have the cheeks of their ass torn off for not doing right in class," Ivey said.

Ivey said school discipline is being decided by administrators at district offices and not the school staff themselves. He blamed that for the exodus of teachers, which has been seen across the state. Among teachers, low pay has been a continual source of contention but discipline has also been an issue.

School discipline: Brevard school leaders say high discipline rates not working

A press release from the Brevard Federations of Teachers union echoed the sentiments expressed by Ivey and Susin, saying that they "have met with Superintendent Mullins, district leadership, and school board members and nothing has changed. We have offered solutions to no avail. Students verbally and physically abuse teachers and staff, and there will be no end in sight unless meaningful systemic changes are made."

"We recognize that there are state and federal guidelines that apply to how discipline is issued, and it will take all parties working together to bring about true change, including lawmakers. We encourage parents, students, teachers, administrators, school staff, school board members, district leaders, and community members to all come together to make forward thinking and forward moving solutions. These changes must be ones that help, not harm; solve issues, not create more. These student driven solutions should result in a safe environment where students can learn, and teachers can teach," the release reads.

Changing disciplinary policy is not the first big move by the new school board. Superintendent Mark Mullins agreed to step down at last week's meeting after a majority of the board said they wanted new leadership.  Also at that meeting, a policy that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that matched their identity was ended.

Tyler Vazquez is the North Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Vazquez at 321-917-7491 or tvazquez@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @tyler_vazquez

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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Sheriff Ivey announces 'brand new day' for discipline at Brevard schools