When did recipients of public funds stop communicating with those who pay the bills?
More important, when did We, The People begin tolerating it?
Recently, the wonderful community newspaper, The West Volusia Beacon, reported that during a five-week period in October and early November, members of the DeLand Police Department responded to at least eight fights – and arrested some 14 children, ages 11 to 14 – at DeLand Middle School.
During the same time frame, officers responded to the school 87 times for both routine issues and to investigate assaults, battery, fighting, suicide threats and to take children into protective custody under the Baker Act, which indicates they were a threat to themselves or others.
A deeper dive found that during the 2017-18 school year, nearly 30% of the student population of the school was given in-school or out-of-school suspensions, or placed in an alternative education program.
Did you hear anything about it?
Neither did the parents of vulnerable DeLand Middle School students. . .
According to reports, when parents are notified of violence and disorder at the Thunderdome, it comes in the form of frantic calls from their kids, social media posts or a network of parents – not school administrators.
In fact, Amaria Dirch, the parent of a sixth grader, said it’s not uncommon to call the school, repeatedly, with no answer – or leave messages that are never returned.
“Instead of the school administration, Dirch said, she relies on her daughter, other parents, and social media to know when something has happened. “It doesn’t seem like they care,” Dirch said. “If I didn’t show my face out there every other week, they would throw her to the wolves.”
Perhaps most disturbing, the school’s administrators – including the new principal, John R. De Vito, refused to be interviewed by The Beacon.
“Likewise, the DeLand Police Department did not respond to The Beacon’s requests to interview the school resource officer assigned to DeLand Middle School or anyone else in the Police Department who could speak about the situation.”
Ultimately, The Beacon was shunted to the Volusia County School’s Community Information Office – that citadel of non-communication, evasion and obfuscation that protects senior administrators from outside oversight – who, in turn, also blew the newspaper off – refusing to allow a reporter to interview anyone in the publicly funded school system.
Eventually, a highly paid district mouthpiece issued a canned release which, per usual, said nothing – other than spewing some responsibility-dodging crap about “taking matters seriously. . .”
Fortunately, our new Volusia County School Superintendent Dr. Ronald Fritz reached out to The Beacon and reassured a concerned community that he would look into the problems at DeLand Middle “fairly quickly” when he takes the helm on December 2.
“If the school is experiencing regular encounters, something is going on in the community. We can’t solve only at the school level, we have to reach out to the community,” Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz said.”
(Note to Dr. Fritz: I think you will find this has little to do with the delightful community of DeLand – and everything to do with the abject mismanagement, legacy of incompetence and strategic neglect of essential district services you will inherit early next week. . .)
Look, I am personally grateful that Dr. Fritz took the time to speak with the working press – his worried constituency deserve to hear directly from those they have elected and appointed to represent their interests, especially in a crisis.
In my view, any “public servant” – especially those in a senior leadership role – who won’t openly communicate with the public they ostensibly serve are cowards who dishonor their sacred obligation of accessibility and transparency.
And that breeds frustration, animosity and distrust.
If you live in Volusia County, it should.
Here on Florida’s Fun Coast, our political leadership have adopted a “loose lips sink ships” policy which keeps the people’s business among the tightly circled wagons of insiders – and employs politically unaccountable government gatekeepers to ration information to the masses in a manner and form most advantageous to preserving the status quo.
In my view, this tight-lipped strategy is counter to the time-honored idea that “an informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment,” and a slap in the face to our cherished democratic principles.
I sincerely hope that Dr. Fritz uses this unfortunate early experience as an indicator of just how far the publicly funded system he will soon oversee has gotten from the core values and considerations that citizens should rightly expect from a massive authority they support with their hard-earned tax dollars.
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