Portrait of a leadership culture: a decade-long timeline of power, relationships, and consequences in the Polk District

Brandi Garcia Blanchard is a bilingual Hispanic administrator. Juanita McCoy is an African-American teacher who worked her way up from serving as a para. Polk County needs more of both of those categories of employees to serve our diverse student population.

So why did the Polk School District mercilessly disrupt — and nearly ruin — the professional lives of these women at almost exactly the same time in the summer of 2017?

The most obvious and immediate answer is that Blanchard and McCoy, almost simultaneously, ran afoul of Jason and Laquita Looney during the 2016-17 school year. Both women were on the losing end of a dispute with a Looney. The word of a Looney was enough to severely harm their careers — and to some extent their lives. That’s really not in much dispute.

The deeper question is why. And did they deserve it?

A disconnect I cannot explain

It is Jason Looney’s official position — and the Polk School District’s — that after 11 successful years as a Polk District employee (and after a promotion by Looney at Tenoroc High School) that Blanchard suddenly became a lazy and ineffective administrator starting in roughly September of 2016.

It is Laquita Looney’s official position — and the Polk School District’s — that Juanita McCoy shoved Looney in the back at Southwest Elementary on May 31, 2017, as the culmination of ongoing, one-sided harassment during the winter and spring of 2017. This is despite the fact that the only eyewitness says there was no shove; there was no HR investigation; and all indications, including the principal’s statement to police, show the conflict went in both directions. “They’re the same to each other,” the principal told police.

Having reviewed these two cases more deeply than anyone else, I find that the evidence does not support the position of either the Looneys or the District. Indeed, I find that both women, whatever their alleged shortcomings or culpability, are the victims of truly vicious institutional cruelty.

Moreover, by my count, collectively, the Looneys have been complainants or complained about in at least six formal investigations of school-based disputes since 2010. In one case, the GJ investigation, they were essentially co-defendants. In every single case, no matter which side they were on, School District action sided with the Looneys. The Looneys won. Many people on the opposite side of the Looneys suffered deeply for it.

As an elected leader of this district, I feel obligated to the community I serve to make this clear. I feel morally and ethically obligated to ask why the word of a Looney enough to destroy people in this district? The District’s answer to this question has become, essentially, because we said so.

I can’t explain the disconnect or that answer. I can’t explain the why. But I feel quite certain the roots of the why stretch back a very long time and emerge from the longstanding leadership culture of the Polk School District.

The consequences of undisclosed relationships and unaccountable power

So I have created, for the public’s benefit and my own, a timeline of wide-ranging Polk County School District institutional leadership behavior. It’s seen through a Looney lens, but extends far beyond the Looneys. Because this really isn’t a Looney question. It’s a leadership culture question, a question of what we value and take seriously.

I believe you will see one theme emerge from the chronology with brutal clarity: undisclosed relationships and unaccountable power come with devastating personal, financial, and institutional consequences.

I also think the culture on display here reflects the twisted incentives created by the fraudulent and cruel Florida model of education. When only fraudulent data and fraudulent school grades matter in evaluation and job security, humanity and decency is trampled.

The timeline stretches to 2003, although most events come from 2008 or later, when the events of the 2010 investigation of the Looneys, as a couple, start to occur at George Jenkins High.

I have sifted through investigative reports, emails, discipline files, old news stories, etc. The blizzard of information surrounding these cases and District’s leadership behavior over the years can obscure vision. I hope that organizing the information into a chronology clarifies it somewhat. I know it has for me.

“…if there was anything we should be aware of”

I cannot make my fellow board members read this. But I hope they will. For several members, all of this happened on their watch. And they made not a peep. With the exception of some mild comments from Lynn Wilson, every board member has been utterly content to say essentially nothing about the Blanchard and McCoy cases.

The only significant point-of-view from any of them came from Kay Fields, when I raised the 2010 Jenkins investigation of the Looneys.

“And I guess my response to that would be that was seven years ago. And I would imagine that if there was anything we should be aware of that the staff would have told us by now. I would hope and pray they would.”

Anyone reading the timeline that follows should have that quote ringing in their ears the entire time.

Indeed, the timeline makes clear that addressing an organizational crisis related to a Looney has been part of the regular rhythm of Polk district operations for a decade. Everything that occurred in the last year or so has a deep historical context that district leadership has long known and been part of.

This certainly pre-dates Kathryn LeRoy and Jackie Byrd. But it’s also clear that one of Jackie Byrd’s first tasks upon arriving at the Polk District in 2013 was to address serious complaints about Jason Looney’s leadership at Tenoroc.

A tool for understanding and organizational reform

I don’t expect anyone from the general public to sit down and read this wire-to-wire. It is massive. It’s the product of essentially a year of work, study, and internal bureaucratic battling. But it’s incredibly useful to me to put it in one place.

Where I can, I have removed names so as to avoid unnecessary public embarrassment. I have also pointed out my own role to the best of my recollection, in the spirit of productive self-criticism. I am eager for it to be reviewed and questioned. Although my conscience is completely clear, I want to know what I might have done better in this extraordinarily difficult situation.

Putting this in one organized form allows me to now zero in on the almost endless, individual organizational leadership issues worth reviewing. I can break it up into smaller, more manageable chunks to explain to the public. I will be doing that moving forward.

Everyone who reads this should read it critically. It is completely accurate to the best of my knowledge and effort; and I believe it fairly represents the evidence and other people’s points-of-view. But it also emerges from my work and perceptions. I welcome input from anyone. I will likely add events or refine dates as they become apparent to me. I will promptly correct any errors shown to me.

Most importantly, I hope that this organized information serves as a tool for whomever we hire to review the district’s institutional behavior over the years — and help us institute reforms. I certainly do not expect the reviewer to take my timeline as gospel; but I have crafted the timeline to serve the scope of the outside review I will request from the School Board at our next meeting in a couple weeks, which is:

  1. The confrontation between Laquita Looney and Juanita McCoy on May 31, 2017 including the context/conflict over an ESE student that preceded it and the decision to punish McCoy without a formal HR investigation based solely on charges that the State Attorney’s Office recently dropped.

  2. A comprehensive review of the District’s institutional behavior relating to Jason and Laquita Looney dating at least to the events described in the 2010 investigation of their behavior at George Jenkins High School.

  3. Lessons learned from #1 and #2 that can form the basis of human capital management reform in the district.

Honestly, part 3 is what I care most about, and I care quite a bit about 1 and 2.

The review Jackie Byrd recently suggested, as I understand it, would focus narrowly on the two Jason Looney Tenoroc investigations.

That scope won’t answer the why.

Until we answer the why, we won’t successfully create a leadership culture built on common purpose rather than fear and impunity and opaque leadership relationships and motivations. Until we answer the why, we won’t create a leadership culture worthy of the thousands of Polk County people trying to serve kids every day in the right way.

I can promise anyone reading this that I will continue to wake up every day trying to help create that culture.

Timeline

A note on style: Much of the content in these entries comes from excerpts of investigative reports and emails.

The School District investigative reports have an odd, multi-faceted style.

In many passages, investigators paraphrase witness interviews, rather than provide transcripts and quote them. In other passages, they speak in the first person, as the narrator, explaining a finding or an experience with a witness. And in some cases, they quote directly from pieces of interviews.

On the regular website, I’ve use italics and regular text to try to make clear which is which. Unfortunately, on mobile platforms, block quotes sort of mash together in italics. I think it’s clear both ways, but feel free to contact me either way for clarification.

May 3, 2003

The Ledger reports on the the sexual harassment investigation of a former Lakeland High principal. It highlights a quote in the investigation from Jason Looney, then a teacher at Lakeland High School. The principal was removed from Lakeland High.

The principal received a letter at the time from then Superintendent of Schools Jim Thornhill, saying:

“It appears from the investigation that you engaged in inappropriate conduct with certain staff members and, at times, in the presence of students. As a leader and role model in the school and community, it is imperative at all times that your conduct is above reproach and that you not take actions which could lead to an unfavorable perception by anyone.”

The Ledger story included this excerpt from the investigation:

In interviews with school investigators, four teachers who were interviewed last month by The Ledger said the same things they told the newspaper: that [the principal] stared at their breasts and got too close. Two of the women said [principal] gave them unwelcome chest-to-chest hugs.

Also included in accounts of the interviews with school investigators:

A secretary, [name withheld] asked [the principal] whether two secretaries she worked with were violating the dress code. She said [the principal] answered, “What’s the matter, are you jealous of their big boobs?”

Numerous workers praised [principal], calling him professional, dedicated and hard-working.

“I just think it’s interesting that these people are coming forth and doing it now,” teacher Jason Looney said. He said some of the accusers never wanted [him] to be principal at LHS, and now, “I feel that they are jumping on the bandwagon — that they have it in for him.”

I find this relevant both because of the action taken against the principal by the District and Looney’s statements about it.

August 2008

Here’s an excerpt from a statement given by a George Jenkins High School teacher I’m calling [First GJ Teacher], as quoted in the 2010 investigation:

“In August of 2008 I transferred to George Jenkins High School. I was a ninth grade reading and ESOL teacher. At this time, I met Jason Looney, APA, and his wife Laquita Looney, guidance for ESOL. Mr. Looney often came to my room and asked for help with curriculum. He told me that he was going into the Principal Pool and Dr. Nickell had told him to meet with me for reading knowledge. Mr. Looney started to text me throughout the day. In addition, he called me on my phone after school hours. The conversations were friendly and professional at first, but later Mr. Looney started to make comments which I felt were hinting to meeting me outside of work.”

Investigators said a relative of [First GJ Teacher] said she was shown multiple “flirtatious” texts from Looney  that “made it clear that Mr. Looney was interested in a relationship” with [First GJ Teacher]. The relative did not remember any of of the texts she saw as being “nasty.” None of the 2008 texts themselves could be produced for the 2010 investigation.

Both Looneys deny all allegations and wrongdoing related to the 2010 George Jenkins investigation.

October 2008

“In October 2008, Mr. Looney walked into my portable during the week of the Haines City [football] game. He asked me if I could go to the game. I told him no and asked him why he asked me that question. Mr Looney did not have a good answer for me. Later that same week, Mr. Looney sent me a text that said he wanted to “eat my pussy” on my desk. I was shocked, and did not respond to his text. Mr. Looney came to my classroom after lunch and told me the text was not intended to go to me. Because I was still mad, and because I did not believe him, I called him a “fucking pig.” Mr. Looney apologized and told me how sorry he was.” — [First GJ Teacher] statement from 2010 investigation. 

October 12, 2008

Except from 2010 investigation:

[Third GJ Teacher] said one Sunday morning he was preparing to go to church when he got a phone call from Laquita Looney. He said he recalled this incident because Mrs. Looney wanted to come over to talk because she was quite upset. He said she came over while he was making breakfast. [Third GJ teacher] said [Laquita] Looney asked him “Who the fuck is this [Second GJ Teacher]?” He said [Laquita] Looney went on to explain that she had seen a text from [Second GJ Teacher] to Jason and the content was “Call me when you get up because I want to suck your big, black dick.” [Third GJ teacher] said the text had come through on that morning.”

Laquita Looney denies she told [Third GJ teacher] that the text said that. She says it said something like: “Good morning sexy.” — From 2010 investigation.

November 2008

Laquita Looney called [Second GJ teacher] after midnight: “[GJ Teacher 2] said Mrs. Looney asked to speak to her husband. [Second GJ teacher] said she asked who she was and Looney said “You know damn well who this is.” [Second GJ teacher] told her that her husband was asleep and asked what she wanted. She said Looney then started talking about Jason and phone calls that she had seen to [Second GJ teacher] on Jason’s phone.” — From 2010 investigation.

November 2008

Laquita Looney ordered to bed rest prior to Thanksgiving because of high risk pregnancy, according to her statement from 2010. Looney alleges that entire pregnancy led to harassment by superior at GJ. Investigator: “Mrs. Looney said she had reported the harassment to Buddy Thomas, Brenda Hardman and Randy Bristle during her employment at GJHS. She said harassment occurred while she was pregnant.” Laquita Looney tells investigator her transfer to East Area Adult School was a result of the harassment. — From 2010 investigation. [Billy note: I haven’t found any official record or report about the alleged pregnancy harassment.]

First semester 2008-09

[First GJ teacher] reports text incident to Principal Buddy Thomas.

“I told [the investigator] Mr. Smith this teacher did not want me to take notes or say anything to Mr. Looney.” — from Buddy Thomas statement given during 2010 investigation on 10/12/10.

February 2009

“In February [2009] Mr. Looney’s wife called [First GJ teacher] cell phone and asked me who I was. Later, Mr. Looney called me from his house phone. His wife grabbed the phone from him and asked me if Mr. Looney called me. I said yes. I heard his wife screaming something at Mr. Looney and then she hung up the phone.” — [First GJ Teacher] statement from 2010 investigation.

Week of Feb. 10, 2010

[First GJ Teacher] speaks with GJ Assistant Principal Brenda Hardman. Talks about Looney texts and harassment.

Hardman: “I told her she needed to speak with Mr. Thomas about this issue. She did not ask me to take any action on her behalf about the texts.” — from Brenda Hardman statement given during 2010 investigation on 9/27/10.

Week of Feb. 15, 2010

[Fourth GJ teacher] comes to see Hardman about Jason Looney.

Hardman: “[Fourth GJ teacher] came to my office late in the afternoon. She indicated a coach told her that [First GJ teacher] had been pursued by Mr. Looney (my words). Ms. Werrick said the coaches were talking about this and she was concerned about it. She did not disclose the name of the coaches. I told her to go to Mr. Thomas with her information. Prior to this meeting, I was aware that she was not fond of Mr. Looney.” — from Brenda Hardman statement given during 2010 investigation on 9/27/10.

Feb. 23, 2010

Hardman and [First GJ teacher] have another discussion. 

Hardman: “Another email was written by [First GJ teacher] that was not supportive of administrative actions. It was given to me by Ms. Emmerling who intercepted it through her Reading contacts. I asked Mr. Thomas if we could meet with [First GJ teacher] and discuss the email. We met in his office. We discussed the school Reading goals, her actions and why they were inappropriate. Toward the end of the meeting — about 15 minutes into our discussion, she brought up how she has been mistreated by administration. She said a Dean said she looked like Pamela Anderson. She spoke of her post medical issues. She brought up Mr. Looney.  I asked her of she felt comfortable with me leaving the office so she could speak with Mr. Thomas out her administrative concerns. She nodded and said “yes.” I left the two of them together to speak of the issues.” — from Brenda Hardman statement given during 2010 investigation on 9/27/10.

November 15, 2010

Email received by Polk District HR staff from relative of [First GJ teacher].

Excerpt: “There needs to be a formal investigation of George Jenkins’s Assistant Principal, Jason Looney. Not only has he sexually harassed numerous female teachers, but he allowed his wife to bully them while on campus. She went into his phone and called each one of them with threatening message.” Investigation begins. — From 2010 investigation

September 27, 2010

GJ Assistant Principal Brenda Hardman gives statement, acknowledges that Looney was raised as an issue by staff on 2/10, 2/15, and 2/23, detailed previously. — From 2010 investigation

October 6, 2010

Laquita Looney is interviewed at East Area Adult School where she transferred. Alleges that she was harassed while pregnant at GJ, which caused her to relocate to East Area Adult School. Her answer to a question about contacting [Second GJ teacher] leads to an unresolved question of honesty, addressed later in a second interview. — From 2010 investigation

October 12, 2010

GJ  Principal Buddy Thomas gives statement acknowledging he was told about alleged Looney/EMP text to [First GJ teacher]. This is the full text of the statement:

On October 4 Chuck Smith came into my office [cq] told me the District had received an email that said Jason Looney was having an affair with a teacher at our school. I did say to Mr. Smith that a teacher had come to me in confidence and said Mr. Looney had sent her an inappropriate text message. I told Mr. Smith this teacher did not want me to take notes or say anything to Mr. Looney. I asked the teacher if this was a formal complaint and the teacher said the teacher said, “No.” I again asked her if she wanted me to do anything about the situation.

The teacher’s remark, to the best of my knowledge was, “this is between two adults and I can handle my own business. I just thought you should know as my friend and boss.” I again asked her if she wanted me to do anything and she said “No.” To the best of my knowledge this was first semester of the 2009-2010 school year. Mr. Smith asked for the teachers name and I gave him [First GJ teacher.]

I told Mr. Smith that [First GJ teacher] came to me about three weeks ago and said rumors were out there that her and Jason Looney were having an affair. This is the first time I heard anything about an alleged affair involving Mr. Looney with anyone. I told her I had not heard any rumors. I asked her if she wanted me to do anything, and to the best of my knowledge, she said something to the effect, “No, I just wish this immature behavior would go away.” [First GJ teacher] are to me in confidence and did not file formal complaint. — From 2010 investigation

October 21, 2010

[Third GJ teacher], to support his account of Laquita Looney calling him to discuss texts, provides investigators with detailed phone records proving Laquita Looney called him. — From 2010 investigation

November 19, 2010

Jason Looney interviewed. Answers questions with his lawyer, Marc Capron, in largely Yes/No fashion. Here is the account of of interview, as described in the investigation:

Q – Did you send [First GJ teacher] a sexual explicit text message?

A – No

Q – If not you, who sent the text that your counsel refers to in his letter of November 16, 2010?

A – Mr. Capron responded to this question after I mentioned that Capron’s letter seemed to indicate that Mr. Looney had apologized for a text that was sent by Mr. Looney. Mr. Capron said that his writing was in the context of what the allegations were rather than what Mr. looney had actually done. Mr. Looney furthered his answer by stating that [First GJ teacher] had never discussed anything with him about an in appropriate text message.

Q – Have you had a sexual relationship with any current or former staff member of GJHS (other than your wife)?

A- No

Q – Did you ever attempt to have [First GJ teacher] meet you for any purpose not related to school business?

A – No

Q – Have you sent any current or former staff member sexually explicit text messages?

A – No

Q – Has any current or former member of GJHS staff sent you a sexually explicit text message?

A – Mr. Looney replied “Sexually explicit? No.” I asked if he had received any message that he would deem to be inappropriate and he replied that he had. We explored this question and Mr. Looney advised that he had received a text from [Second GJ teacher] that said “Good morning. Sexy.” Mr. Looney denied receiving any text from [Second GJ teacher] that said contained information [cq] [about oral sex] as described by [Third GJ teacher]. I asked Mr. Looney to describe the context of how he received the message from [Second GJ teacher]. He said he was asleep one weekend morning when his wife saw the text. He said upon seeing the text from [Second GJ teacher] his wife wanted clarification as to whom it was that sent the text and he told her who [Second GJ teacher]. I asked Mr. Looney if he was aware if his wife had contacted [Second GJ teacher] as a result of this text. He advised that he did know that his wife had texted [Second GJ teacher] back (using his phone) and advised [Second GJ teacher] not to contact her husband again. He said [Second GJ teacher] texted back apologizing and indicating that the text was mistakenly sent to Mr. Looney and was intended for her husband.

Q – Has your wife ever intercepted or seen texts that have been sent to your phone by any current or former GJHS staff member?

A – Mr. Looney responded as described in #6 above and further mentioned that, to his knowledge, there was no other staff member with whom his wife had communicated based on texts received on his phone.

Lastly we discussed that there have been times when female as well as male staff members have communicated with Mr. Looney via text. We discussed the tragic accident that occurred in October 2008 upon which [Second GJ teacher] had sent the text to Looney. Mr. Looney advised that is possible that he and [Second GJ teacher] had communicated via text upon his learning of the accident and that his texts to [Second GJ teacher] and perhaps others were intended to prepare them for the shock and bereavement that would be on campus the following week.

November 19, 2010

Laquita Looney interviewed again. She acknowledges texting [Second GJ teacher] and telling her “not to text her husband in that manner again.” She acknowledges calling and then visiting [Third GJ teacher] to get “a male perspective.” Denies that she told [Third GJ teacher] that the text talked about oral sex.

Investigator: “After discussing the above questions I reminded Mrs. Johnson-Looney that during our October 6, 2010 interview I asked her if she had ever called or texted [Second GJ teacher] for any reason and that she (Johnson-Looney) at that time denied ever communicating with [GJ2] in any manner. I asked why she had not disclosed her text w/ [Second GJ teacher] during our first interview. Mrs. Johnson-Looney said I had asked the question of had she ever texted or communicated with [GJ2] the adjective ‘threatening’.”  — From 2010 investigation

It is not clear if the investigator, in fact, qualified his 10/6/10 question with “threatening.”

December 6, 2010

Investigator Chuck Smith submits HR investigation package for Jason and Laquita Looney. Allegations found Not Sustained.

Smith concludes his investigative narrative with this “investigator’s note”:

During the course of this investigation several of the persons who were interviewed expressed great concern that they would be retaliated against by either Mr. or Mrs. Looney in some fashion for providing their testimony.

July 2012

Superintendent Sherry Nickell appoints Looney as Tenoroc principal. Years later, in an email written to Tenoroc investigators and district leadership in 2017, Looney writes:

“I interviewed for the Tenoroc principal position and was ultimately chosen. That was a promotion. People normally are not promoted when they are moved for reason [cq] that would result in discipline. That in itself shows the thought process of someone that would make up a rumor.”

November 2012

Sherry Nickell retires as superintendent.

June 2013

The Polk School Board hires Kathryn LeRoy as superintendent. She brings Jackie Byrd and Tony Bellamy, among other top administrators, with her from Jacksonville.

Summer 2013

After Jason Looney’s first year at Tenoroc, “both of my assistant principals and academic coaches were moved.” from email Jason Looney sent in 2017.

This matches with the account of a former Tenoroc staff member who emailed me and senior district staff last year (2017):

“After Mr. Looney’s first year at THS, 40 teachers, deans and paras brought our concerns to PEA.  Ms. Byrd was so concerned about the issues we raised, she met with us for 90 minutes.  Our concerns were not limited to the actions of the AP, we also warned Ms. Byrd about Mr. Looney but nothing was done.  We returned to PEA in 2014 and again nothing was done and then in frustration, numerous grievances were filed including one I was involved in regarding bullying.” — From former staff member’s email sent in response to 2017 investigation.

[Billy note: PEA president Marianne Capoziello confirmed that the union received a number of complaints about Looney during that first year, but could not recall the precise details laid out in the email. There is no formal record of a meeting that I’ve been able to locate.]

As replacement for the first assistant principals to leave, Looney hires Samara Routenberg as an AP.

Summer 2013, beginning of 2013-2014 school year

Summer Fisher hired as reading coach at Tenoroc. She and Looney knew each other from Jenkins. She was not named in the 2010 Jenkins investigation. Multiple people from Tenoroc assumed she was. But that wasn’t true.

This is an excerpt from the statement Fisher gave as part of the first Tenoroc/Looney investigation in 2017:

“I was previously hired as the school’s reading coach beginning the school year of 2013-2014. Before I was hired as the reading coach, I was a reading teacher at George Jenkins High School. I did not apply for the reading coach position at Tenoroc High School. It was suggested by Ashley Ashley, the district reading coach at that time, to bring me to Tenoroc because of my high student achievement on the FCAT. In order to be considered for this position, I had to interview with Ms. Byrd and Ms. Bowen in Bartow. They observed that I was qualified for the position and I was hired upon their arrival.”

Mid 2013

Vendors vying to provide the district’s LIIS student information system make a presentation.

“In mid-2013, three potential vendors made presentations to the District. After the presentations, a recommendation of a selected vendor was made to Mrs. LeRoy, which was Schoolology. All vendors offered an already developed and functioning LIIS system that would be tailored to the needs of Polk County Schools.

Mrs. LeRoy rejected the recommendation and stated that she knew a vendor that she wanted to have make a presentation.”  From Greg Rivers complaint against Kathryn LeRoy in late 2015.

LeRoy had an existing relationship of some kind with a representative of that vendor named Allen Burgtorf. The company, Beanstalk Innovation, had never done a system like an LIIS for an education client. Yet, LeRoy directed the District to hire Beanstalk and handled negotiations personally and solely.

In addition, “there was confusion between Mrs. LeRoy and the selected vendor over who was providing the assessment item bank [ed. note: an item bank provides the test questions for the testing platform] that would be required for a complete LIIS system.”

The system never got off the ground and became an operational and financial disaster for the District.

August 27, 2013

Laquita Johnson-Looney makes a sexual harassment complaint against a teacher at East Area Adult School, a 35-year-employee of the district. The investigation that followed produced a complicated and long report, which I have in electronic form and will email to anyone who wants to review it.

I think it’s pretty well done; but it’s hard to characterize in its entirely. Of the various Looney investigations, this one seems to me to be the best executed. But that’s just my opinion from reading all of them.

The formal accusations relate to unwanted touching or hugging; inappropriate language, some of it sexual and some of it “compliments” related to body appearance. The teacher denies the sexual talk but acknowledges “complimenting” Johnson-Looney on how her breasts looked in a dress by saying something like “Wow, I wish I had that,” referring to cleavage.

I could spend an entire, very long post going through the bizarre back-and-forth in this investigation. The bottom line is that the two women seem to have a uniquely troubled relationship. Laquita Looney said the tension began when she heard a secondhand account of a racial slight that the teacher reportedly made when Looney came to the school in 2010. Laquita Looney claims the teacher confirmed the slight in a meeting, but said she “meant nothing by it.” Laquita Looney said “since that day she has had her radar up.” No one else in the report addresses that issue or confirms Laquita Looney’s statements.

Laquita Looney told investigators she “went off” one Thursday night, when both women were working, after the teacher came into her office and hugged her. “Get the fuck out of my office,” Looney said. She told the principal about the incident, which caused the teacher to lose the ability to work on Thursday nights. The teacher acknowledged her inappropriate behavior at various times and said of Laquita Looney: “I irritate her and she irritates me.”

The investigation was carried out by investigator Carol Wynn-Green, who would later investigate Jason Looney in the first Tenoroc investigation. Green wrote at one point in the report:

“I inquired of Ms. Looney of a possible resolution to the matter. Ms. Looney suggested that a resolution might be a suspension without pay. She stated she just cannot have the stress. [The teacher] has been reprimanded, told by Ms. Cameron and Mr. [John] Small to not come in my office and she still does. Ms. Looney stated that, “it started with race went to touching now it is sexual and I am done.” She is not sure if she can be on the same campus, because [the teacher] does not listen. Ms. Looney does not think she should have to move. Ms. Looney stated that she has no problem with professional contact with [the teacher] but [the teacher] has been so unprofessional that some type of discipline has to happen, not just a letter in her file.”

September 6, 2013

Wynn-Green’s report finds the East Area Adult complaint partly sustained and partly unsustained. The comments about cleavage and body appearance, specifically, were sustained. The allegations of sexual talk were not, citing a lack of evidence.

In addition, there seems to be no doubt that unwanted touching went on. Looney asserted it repeatedly; and the teacher acknowledged it, although she described it as minor, such as tapping Looney on the back. The “hugging” in the office issue seems not to have been raised with the teacher.

Nevertheless, four years later, Laquita Looney would say this to police, with her voice cracking, while complaining about teacher Juanita McCoy at Southwest Elementary School: “Trying to hold back tears. I’ve never had a colleague put their hands on me.”

Laquita Looney said that under oath, as part of a sworn statement in a criminal investigation she initiated against Juanita McCoy.

The teacher in the East Area investigation was not immediately punished. She was first told to stay away from Laquita Looney and then later suspended when she went into the guidance office where Looney worked.

All in all, in a bizarre and difficult situation, this specific episode seems to have been promptly addressed and reasonably well-handled by the district.

December 6, 2013

Tenoroc assistant principal Samara Routenberg receives letter signed by Kathryn LeRoy abruptly transferring her to Lake Gibson Middle with no explanation. She has been at Tenoroc less than half the year. I remain unaware of any officially documented explanation.

“Please know that we are constantly evaluating how and where our personnel can best be utilized to benefit the educational process for our students,” is the closest thing to an explanation from LeRoy’s letter.

While at LGHS, Routenberg became romantically involved with a LGHS teacher. Tragically, both women would be murdered in 2017 by the teacher’s estranged husband, who then killed himself. No one with the school system seems to have known that the teacher and Routenberg were involved.

The Polk District continues to have no policy governing the disclosure or approval of non-marital romantic or sexual relationships between supervisor and employee. I asked for one last year (2017). Nothing has happened.

February 2014

Tallahassee trip during which Assistant Superintendent Greg Rivers accused Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy of trying to kiss him in an elevator. From 2016 investigation of Rivers’ sexual harassment and mismanagement allegations against LeRoy.

February 25, 2014

The Polk School Board has its only discussion of the ill-fated LIIS student information system. I wrote all about that catastrophic failure at this link.

As a reminder, according to Greg Rivers complaint, LeRoy rejected the vendor recommendation of staff and picked a vendor with whom she had a personal relationship who had never implemented an LIIS system before.

The contract is formally approved on the consent agenda a few weeks later. The project will never get off the ground and will waste hundreds of thousands of dollars.

April 4, 2014

Kathryn LeRoy holds her first meeting with Atlantic Education Partners (AEP), which became the operator of Acceleration Academy (AA). One of the owners of AEP is Joey Wise. He is the former superintendent of Duval County, who recruited former Polk Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy to Jacksonville in 2007. He was also the owner/creator of Acceleration Academy, a drop-out retrieval and prevention alternative program. Under LeRoy, Polk County gave AA one of its first significant contracts, despite a number of staff concerns.

The contract with AA ended in litigation and a settlement that the School Board, including me, voted to approve on December 11, 2017. We paid $250,000 to AA and its lawyers.  Sourced from emails and documents related to the AA litigation. 

Summer 2014

A Tenoroc High teacher claims to see Jason Looney and Summer Fisher engaged in what appeared to be oral sex. Here is how the 2017 Tenoroc investigation put it.

“She stated that she walked past a room on her way to the restroom she happened to look back to the door and Ms. Fisher was sitting in a chair in very close proximity to Mr. Looney. Her head/face was at the level of Mr. Looney’s pelvic area. [Roc-teacher-1] stated both Mr. Looney and Ms. Fisher were clothed. It appeared to her they were engaged in oral sex. When asked [Roc-teacher-1] stated that she did not see Mr. Looney’s penis or buttocks. [Roc-teacher-1] stated that after seeing this, she was mortified and she kept walking to the restroom. She stated she felt as though she had done something wrong.”

The investigation said this could not be substantiated because of a lack of evidence  2017 Tenoroc investigations.

Looney and Fisher deny all allegations of sexual contact or any romantic relationship.

September 14, 2014

The School Board approves the Acceleration Academy contract on the consent agenda. I see no evidence that the board ever had a substantive public discussion of this contract. And the relationship between Polk County and AA did not go well. No one actually agrees on the specific amount; but Polk paid AA several million dollars in state FTE money and got very few diplomas out of it, perhaps fewer than 20. The AA contract was one the allegations of malfeasance that Greg Rivers later leveled against LeRoy, in addition to the sexual harassment claims.

September 24, 2014

More LIIS problems occur. Because of “confusion between Mrs. LeRoy and the selected vendor over who was providing the assessment item bank [ed. note: an item bank provides the test questions for the testing platform],”  the district has to buy a test bank from another provider called the Northwest Evaluation Association.

The District pays $340,000 to Northwest on September 24, 2014. But the assessment system didn’t work; so the questions couldn’t be used on it. To repeat, the District $340,000 of taxpayer on test questions that were never used for a system that didn’t work.

March 2015

Ann Tankson holds Rivers-LeRoy mediation after February 2015 trip to Tallahassee in which a board member saw palpable tension between Rivers and LeRoy. 

————————————–

Bandi Garcia Blanchard hired as a dean at Tenoroc High School. She moves from Southwest Middle School, where she had been a dean for several years. Her kids attend Tenoroc, so this is a convenient move for her.

Blanchard says inappropriate language from Looney began almost immediately. She characterizes them as advances.

Ms. Blanchard stated that at the time she began employment, her two children were students at Tenoroc and the ability to work there made it easier for her as a single parent. Since that time one of her children has graduated and the other will be a senior for the 2017-18 school year.

She stated that almost immediately after she arrived at Tenoroc the comments began. She stated that Mr. Looney would come into her office and say things like, “Don’t take this wrong but you are stunningly beautiful.” “You are such a beautiful woman” or “I have the most beautiful staff in the county.” She stated that her response to his comments, she stated she just “politely” said, “Thank you.” Ms. Blanchard stated she is a single mom and she did not want to cause an issue with her boss, so she did not tell him to stop making the comments or say she had a problem with him making the comments.

Blanchard told me that Looney once said to her: “You’re so beautiful; I can’t believe your husband left you.” That specific line is not captured in either Tenoroc investigation.

But the first Tenoroc investigation said this:

Mr. Looney stated that he was aware that Ms. Blanchard had issues with her ex-husband and times the conversation “got nasty” (i.e. bad). Mr. Looney stated that he commented “why would you put up with that?” But never said anything about her looks. Mr. Looney stated that his wife communicated to him regarding how short Blanchard’s skirt was at a football game. He stated he didn’t address it but should have.

Looney denies ever using sexualized language toward Blanchard. He denies all wrongdoing.

May 2015

Looney promotes Blanchard after two months to Assistant Principal (II) at Tenoroc. It’s worth revisiting Jason Looney’s own words here for a moment.

People normally are not promoted when they are moved for reason [cq] that would result in discipline.” From Looney’s 2017 email to District leadership

According to the first Tenoroc investigation:

[Looney] stated that [Blanchard] did a good job when she first started but she began to “butt heads” with staff.

Shortly after the promotion to AP, Blanchard told investigators, she and Looney attended a leadership academy meeting together in Tenoroc’s auditorium. They began discussing Looney’s workout habits and supplements; and at one point, Looney said: “Well, I don’t take them just for the sexual enhancement properties.”

May 28, 2015

Blanchard sends an email survey to Tenoroc staff. Excerpt:

“Esteemed Collogues [CQ]

The end of the 2014-2015 school year is near. I know that everyone is very busy finishing grades and getting your classrooms squared away. It’s not my intention to add to your workload, I’m only asking that you take a few minutes to please give me your honest opinion and feedback…This will be completely anonymous.”

Looney ordered her to recall it within an hour. “I need to discuss this with you tomorrow morning,” he writes

The next day, Blanchard told me, Looney chastised her for the survey and said he did not want to know what Tenoroc employees thought.

[Billy note: The Tenoroc investigations have the timing of this survey wrong. I have the actual emails with the correct dates. This is one of several mistakes in dates included within the investigations.]

October 28, 2015

Assistant Superintendent Greg Rivers accuses Kathryn LeRoy of sexual harassment and other mismanagement in an extensive written complaint. It would not become public for weeks.

LeRoy calls Joey Wise of Atlantic Education Partners/Acceleration Academy at 7:47 AM EST to break news of Rivers’ sexual harassment accusations. Tells him she will unilaterally change AA contract. Cites need for “political cover.”

This is an excerpt from an affidavit that Wise gave as part of the litigation.

“On October 28, 2015, I received a telephone communication from Katherine LeRoy, Superintendent of Polk County Public Schools, beginning at 7:47 AM EST, in which she stated:

a. She was being accused of sexual harassment.

b. Claims against her included an allegation that she had improperly recommended and then improperly supervised Acceleration Academies’ contract and another vendor’s contract;

c. That, for ‘political cover‘ she had ordered all scheduled payments to Plaintiff and the other vendor to stop until her name was cleared;

d. That such an order would demonstrate her strong supervision over both vendors.

I stated that I didn’t understand her logic, that our work had been producing strong and unprecedented academic results, and that there wasn’t even a hint of impropriety associated with Acceleration Academies.

Ms. LeRoy concurred but said it didn’t matter; that her ‘career is on the line‘.”

January 20, 2016

Independent report commission by the School District on the LeRoy/Rivers issue is released.  This is one of the recommendations: “We would also recommend that all executive level (cabinet) administrators, including the Superintendent, receive additional sexual harassment training and maintain a regular documented schedule of such training in the future.”  

I see no indication this has happened; but I’m not certain.

February 1, 2016

In response to LeRoy/Rivers report, Wendy Bradshaw and I call a public meeting to organize public pressure to remove Kathryn LeRoy. The “Starbucks Rebellion” is born. Attendees of the meeting create a group called Citizens for Better Educational Leadership.

February 11, 2016

LeRoy resigns under public pressure. Jackie Byrd is appointed as interim superintendent. In the weeks that follow, CBEL organizes public meetings to help choose a new superintendent. We work closely and in good faith with board members.

April 12, 2016

Without warning, the Polk School Board ends its superintendent search when Board Member Tim Harris suggests that the board make Byrd permanent during a work session. Byrd officially became superintendent at the next meeting.

At some point in the spring of 2016, Byrd makes John Small her deputy superintendent. I don’t have the precise date.

May 2016

Unhappy about what I perceive as the School Board’s indifference to the state of the organization and teacher/staff quality of life, I decide to run for School Board against the incumbent in the 2016 District 1 election.

June 2016

Marc Hutek is named assistant superintendent of career, technical, adult and multiple pathways. He was previously the director of adult education for Hillsborough County Public Schools. He replaces John Small in that position. Small is, at this time, the Deputy Superintendent, the number two ranking position in the District.

Summer 2016

Jason Looney decides to institute a freshman academy at Tenoroc. Fisher is promoted to assistant principal and given oversight of the academy.

This is a crucial turn of events.

In her role as assistant principal, Blanchard has responsibility for discipline and oversight of deans. Discipline and timely processing of referrals would become a major flashpoint of conflict between Blanchard, Fisher, Looney, and deans. The back and forth over this issue is crucial background to what would occur over the 2016-17 school year.

This is from the second Tenoroc investigation.

Ms. Blanchard stated that when Ms. Fisher interviewed for a position at Tenoroc High School, she was part of Ms. Fisher’s interview team. There were several other candidates interviewing for the position on the same day. The interview team were discussing the applicants, and Ms. Blanchard stated that she was discussing some of the good point of another applicant. At that time, Mr. Looney made the comment, “Let me make it clear, I already know who I am hiring and your opinion is not needed.” A few days later, Mr. Looney came into her office with an interview form to fill out on Ms. Fisher. Ms. Blanchard sated that she filled out the form with information that Mr. Looney asked her to put on the form.

Looney denies saying that to Blanchard. Other administrators said they didn’t hear him say it.

Here is Looney’s account of hiring Fisher as AP, as summarized in the investigation.

When Ms. Fisher was promoted to Assistant Principal II, there was an interview team that completed interviews for the position. He stated that the interview team included him, Ms. Blanchard, Ms. Mason, and Mr. Hardesty. He stated that he never made any comments that Ms. Fisher was going to get the job, it was a group decision and everyone voted. He stated that Ms. Fisher had all the qualifications to be an assistant principal and everyone agree that she would be the best fit for Tenoroc’s “direction.”

And here is Looney’s narrative of how the Freshman Academy dispute played out, as described in the investigation, from roughly the summer through to holiday break.

Mr. Looney was asked about the Freshman Academy. He stated that the Freshman Academy was started to increase attendance during student’s freshman year. He has done research on the topic and stated that students that attend an academy have a better chance of graduating. Ms. Blanchard consciously made it known that she did not agree with the philosophy of the Freshman Academy. She would continuously undermined [cq] directives and policies in place for the Freshman Academy. Mr. Looney stated that Ms. Blanchard was allowed to go up to the Freshman Academy until he started hearing complaints about how she interacted with the students. There was an incident where Ms. Blanchard antagonized a student that she knew had anxiety/anger issues. Due to the treatment of the students and the continuous undermining of the policies and procedures, Mr. Looney made a decision and asked Ms. Blanchard to not respond to the Freshman Academy. Mr. Looney explained that the Freshman Academy. Mr. Looney explained that the Freshman Academy is on the second floor of building #2. Mr. Looney stated he did not tell Ms. Blanchard that she could not respond to room calls in building #2, just the Freshman Academy.

It appears that none of these serious concerns about Blanchard’s behavior were documented at the time they supposedly occurred. It’s also not clear why Looney allowed Blanchard to respond to any discipline calls if he had such concerns about her demeanor and willingness to purposely antagonize “a student she knew had anxiety/anger issues.”

September 7, 2016

Brandi Blanchard email to Summer Fisher about ninth grade referrals she thinks Fisher is not processing:

“Good Morning Ms. Fisher,

I noticed that there are several 9th grade referrals in Genesis, one as far back as 8/30/16. I realize that you are responsible for 9th grade but if you need help processing these, please let me know.”

September 2016

According to Blanchard, a confrontation occurs with a dean she is expected to oversee concerning referrals. Looney hired the dean even though she lacked high school certification. Blanchard told investigators the dean was a Looney family friend.

This is from the second Tenoroc investigation, summarizing Blanchard’s account:

[The dean] and Ms. Blanchard were discussing the issue with Mr. Looney and [the dean] made the comment, “See Looney, I told you I can’t work with her.” After that meeting, Mr. Looney informed Ms. Blanchard that he would be directly supervising the deans at Tenoroc High School.

Investigator Mease wrote in her investigative conclusion:

“It was determined that [the dean] does have a certification for Elementary Education (K-6). During the time of the investigation, [the dean] was not an employee of Tenoroc High School so no determination could be made to substantiate this allegation.”

I have decided not use the dean’s name publicly because it’s unnecessary; and I’m trying to keep as many names out of public view as possible. Of course, all of this is public record. You can find it if you want.

Fall 2016

As the Freshman Academy/discipline issues were flaring, Blanchard says she obliquely confronted Looney about his alleged sexual comments during a discussion in her office. She does not recall the precise date.

When asked when the last time was Mr. Looney made an inappropriate statement to her. Ms. Blanchard stated that around the beginning of the 2016-17 school year she was having a conversation with Mr. Looney and she told him, “There is a special place in hell for people who cheat on their spouses.” Ms. Blanchard stated that she is a single divorced parent and her ex-husband cheated on her. She stated this conversation between Mr. Looney and herself was the turning point in their relationship. After that comment, Mr. Looney stopped coming into her office to talk and would sometimes go days without speaking to her. Specifically she stated Mr. Looney made, “No more comments about her looks; there was a clear disdain.”

October 13 and 14, 2016

More email exchange about Fisher about referrals, this time involving Looney. In sequence:

From Blanchard to Fisher:

“Good Morning Summer:

There are a lot of 9th grade referrals waiting to be processed, some dating as far back as 9/30. Would you like me to help process some of them so we can get caught back up? Ideally, referral should be processed the same day if not by the school day. Please let me know how you’d like to handle this.”

From Blanchard to Looney on Oct. 14:

“Mr. Looney,

I’ve emailed Ms. Fisher about the 9th grade referrals in Genesis to offer assistance in processing them. She has not replied. I asked again today via email and was ignored. How would you like me to proceed?”

From Looney responding to Blanchard:

“There’s no need to do anything. She has been in communication with me about referrals, issues, parent communication etc. The freshman discipline like most of everything they are doing is different than the upperclassmen. So there’s nothing needed to be done or reminders needing to be sent.

Jason Looney”

From Blanchard back to Looney

“I understand that the Freshmen academy is run differently. I just know that we need to be processing referrals in a timely manner. I was offering assistance because there are referrals as far back as 9/30 and many that have not been previewed yet. I was under the impression that I’m responsible for discipline, as a whole. Now that you’ve clarified that I’m not to do anything with 9th grad referrals, including monitoring or offering Ms. Fisher assistance, I will of course comply. I’ll assume it will not reflect negatively on my evaluation. Per your directive, I’ll not address the issue again.”

November 8, 2016

I am elected to the Polk County School Board, along with Sarabeth Reynolds.

December 6, 2016

Brandi Blanchard receives a “verbal warning with a written confirmation” for not responding to a fight. It is her only discipline of any kind in 12 years as a Polk District employee. Blanchard said she didn’t hear the call for fight on her radio while she was participating in a working lunch for a school holiday event.

December 13, 2016

This is the date written on the Professional Development Plan (PDP) form given to Blanchard by Looney. The precipitating events appear to have been the non-response to the fight call and an occasion on which Blanchard allowed her son, a student at Tenoroc, to use a vending machine reserved for staff on an early release day — after students had left school for the day. That constituted unfair special treatment.

On or about Dec. 13, Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Tami Dawson met with Looney and Blanchard to announce Blanchard’s PDP.

When Blanchard tried to explain that she did not hear the fight, Dawson tells her: “Sounds like you aren’t taking responsibility,” according to Blanchard’s interview in the Tenoroc investigations.

The second Looney/Tenoroc investigative report, written in 2017 by investigator Brandy Mease, said Blanchard referred to this PDP as “bogus.” Mease seemed to agree, concluding:

“I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly.”

Nonetheless, Mease wrote that none of Blanchard’s allegations was “sustained.”

December 14, 2016

9:12 a.m.

A week after disciplining Blanchard for not responding to a fight, Looney chastises her by email for responding to a freshman academy call for assistance.

“I made it clear yesterday the rooms calls upstairs building 2 should not be taken and would not be held against you. The other administrators and I will be taking the calls when Ms. Fisher has planning, PD, attending a meeting etc.”

9:19 a.m.

Blanchard emails Dawson, hoping to set a meeting to discuss her overall situation with Looney, without Looney present.

“Good morning Ms. Dawson,

When your schedule allows, I’d like to schedule a meeting with you. I’ll happily travel to a location convenient for you. I realize that your time is precious, I appreciate any consideration you can provide. Thank you in advance, for your time.”

Dawson agrees to meet.

“Hi Brandi: I actually have some books that I am going to take to Jason that we have been discussing. I am hoping to come out on Friday and will drop in and see you.

Thank you.”

December 16, 2016

When Blanchard arrives to meet Dawson, she finds her sitting with Jason Looney.

“What did you want to talk about?” Dawson said, according to Blanchard.

February 24, 2017

Samara Routenberg and Lake Gibson Middle teacher Lisa Fuillerat are murdered by Fuillerat’s estranged husband, who kills himself. The couple had already been exposed to extensive violence from the husband. I cannot help but wonder, sadly, if a supervisory relationship disclosure policy would have helped them get additional protection and support from the District. Its impossible to know. But it’s a question that haunts me.

To be clear, I had not, at that time, suggested such a policy. I did not suggest the policy until the summer of 2017, after I became aware of Blanchard’s allegations against Looney.

February 27, 2017

Blanchard emails Looney to address progress on her defective PDP.

“During my interim evaluation, we discussed my progression on the PDP that you created for me. You agreed that I have indeed meet [cq] all of the areas of improvement that you outlined however you did not want to make the PDP complete as you wanted more time to see if my performance level would continue at the current rate…It has and it will continue to. I respectfully ask that my PDP be marked successfully complete for the following.”

Blanchard then goes on to document in a lengthy note all the ways in which she has met the expectations of the defective PDP. Looney responds with this email:

“Good afternoon: When we met for the interim, I mentioned that progress had [cq] made. I didn’t say the PDP was complete. I did say it would last the rest of the school year. I’m focusing on the improvement to the items in the PDP to become a way of work not just a snapshot of two or more months. We will continue the PDP until the end of the school year.”

I keep using the word “defective” here to describe the PDP because the same investigation that found Blanchard’s claims “unsubstantiated” concluded that her PDP was defective. Here is the exact wording of that conclusion, once again:

“I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly.”

March 17, 2017

This is the date, according to Juanita McCoy, on which Laquita Looney made a false statement to a parent.

“Laquita Johnson-Looney informed a student’s parents that their child had been tested on the K-BIT, results produced, and that I failed to provide the parents with the results. This is an untrue statement as the student had not been tested by the guidance counselor.”  from the email timeline that McCoy sent to me in November 2017

The conflict over this student is the context of the confrontation that will come on May 31. To my knowledge, this accusation has not been investigated. Nor has the overall dispute that led to the May 31 incident.

April 2017

Jason Looney and Summer Fisher seen leaving prom the Tenoroc prom together by staff and students alike. One witness said, “After this past prom, I had a student walk up to me and ask me if Looney was dating Fisher.”

In her statement, Fisher wrote:

“During last year’s prom (2016-2017), Ms. Blanchard has said that Mr. Looney and I walked off together. The basis of this accusation is confusing since we all were present at prom to supervise our students. Administrators often walked off together to check on students who left the ballroom area. Mr Looney, Mr. Hardesty, Mrs. Akins, Mrs. Mason and I each stayed until our students left the prom (around midnight). However, Ms. Blanchard left early an did not stay behind to help see that each of our students left safely from the prom.”

Fisher later acknowledged in her interview that she did indeed leave the prom with Looney. Here’s how the investigator put it:

She did state that Mr. Looney gave her a ride home from Tenoroc’s prom in 2017. He dropped her off at [a Tenoroc colleague’s] home in Lakeland, the prom was at the Marriott in Orlando. Her care was parked at [the Tenoroc colleague’s] home. She rode with Mr. Looney because some staff were staying at the hotel and some had already left.

April 18, 2017

The Juanita McCoy/Laquita Looney dispute continues to deepen. This is from Juanita McCoy’s emailed timeline:

I received an email from Laquita Johnson-Looney threatening to report me to the “District Supervisor” and “request counseling services to provide 1-1 training”.

There is a lot more content in the McCoy/Looney dispute leading up to May 31. But HR did not investigate any of it. So it’s difficult to make any judgements.

May 16, 2017

The Polk School Board, including me, unanimously approves an apparently unremarkable renewal of a contract with K12, an online education provider. We have used K12 for some time to fulfill state requirements for local online education options.

The amount of the contract renewal we approve with K12 is $594,000.

As I understand it, this isn’t paid in an upfront chunk; it’s paid as kids enroll. It’s the projected cost of serving 100 full-time students and 1,000 part-time. But I’m not completely certain of that.

It’s on the regular agenda. I don’t remember any discussion. The vote seems to have been routine.

May 26, 2017

Ten days after the Board votes to approve that contract, Marc Hutek, assistant superintendent of career, technical, adult and multiple pathways, signs a $1.8 million “Sales Quote” with Fuel Education, which K12 owns. This quote, if followed through on, would commit the Polk District to a pretty massive expansion of the relationship with K12. Although K12 owns Fuel Education, I can’t quite figure out where K12 ends and Fuel Education begins as a service provider.

Hutek says that his boss at the time, Deputy Superintendent John Small, directed him to sign the Sales Quote. Hutek said this in writing about a year later, on June 12, 2018, via email in response to questions I had asked about his role with the K12 sales quote. Here is the part of the June 12, 2018, email specific to signing the Sales Quote. Hutek answer in bold.

Q: Who authorized/directed Marc Hutek to sign the Sales Quote on 5/26/2017? Or did he sign it completely on his own initiative?

“John Small directed me to sign the quote and stated since it was not superintendent/Board approved, it was not considered a contract only a quote.”

Under the terms of the Sales Quote, we would purchase 550 blocks of 10 “enrolled users” — 5,500 enrolled users.  The contract the board just approved projected 100 full-time and 1,000 part-time users.

The new Sales Quote envisions a service period starting July 1, 2017 and running for a year. So that’s $1.8 million just for the year, more than triple what we were already paying K12/fueleducation for services for the year.

The “quote” is good for 30 days, according to the sheet. But that seems irrelevant, because Hutek signed this document underneath the heading: “Accepted by Customer.” Whatever he accepted would seem to be in place. You can click to enlarge.

In her statement about this issued on June 7, Superintendent Jackie Byrd wrote:

A possible source of the confusion regarding this issue is a “Sales Quote”, valid for 30 days, of $1.8 million for 550 blocks of 10 enrolled users that Marc Hutek signed on May 26, 2017.  A copy of that quote is attached with this letter.  In all honesty, I do not know just what Mr. Hutek understood this document to involve since he clearly lacked the authority to bind the School Board.  In any event, it was never acted upon and nothing went before the School Board based upon this “Sales Quote”.

Dr. Hutek brought this to my attention several months after he signed it; I immediately asked that the matter be reviewed.  As the result of my request, a meeting was held last fall with representatives of K-12, including Don Kidd, Vice President, John Small, Dr. Hutek and myself.  Attached to this letter is Dr. Hutek’s memorandum confirming this meeting and the action taken.

Also, the Fall meeting Byrd refers to above apparently occurred in either late October or early November. Hutek confirmed to me via email that John Small represented K12 in that meeting.

May 31, 2017

The Laquita Looney-Juanita McCoy confrontation occurs at Southwest Elementary School. McCoy may have touched Looney on the back as she walked past her and said excuse me. McCoy denies this; but a witness said she saw it. The same witness flatly contradicts Looney’s statement to police and the school principal that McCoy pushed Looney. You can find my full account of the event at this link.

I also have the Lakeland police report and taped statements, if anyone wants to review them. The police got involved because Looney called police directly; not school or district officials.

Based solely on Looney’s statement to the school SRO, district leadership immediately removes McCoy from the school. McCoy is suspended with pay on the same day, without any HR investigation. Later in the summer, she will be suspended without pay for five days and involuntarily transferred to Sleepy Hill Elementary, based solely on the police report.

Here is how McCoy described this entire incident to me in an email:

“Laquita Johnson-Looney requested a meeting for 5/31/17 regarding the MTSS documentation discussed during the 4/26/17 meeting.  When I arrived for the meeting, I was told by the Principal that the meeting was not going to take place. Then, an incident was staged by Laquita Johnson-Looney, false allegations were made, and a false police report was filed which resulted in me being placed on Administrative Leave with Pay pending an ongoing investigation.”

Here is how Laquita Looney described it to police — and what she wanted done to McCoy.

“I felt a firm hand on my back and I got pushed and I had to brace myself on the counter…I could not believe she put her hands on me and pushed me.”

“…I do want to file charges. I do not want to return to this school knowing that this person is on campus.”

During her interview with police, Principal Julie Sloan says of the ongoing conflict between Looney and McCoy: “They’re the same way to each other.”

The contrast between the handling of this case and the handling of the Laquita Looney’s 2013 complaint at East Area Adult School is striking, as is the deference that Jason and Laquita Looney receive, as accused and accuser, respectively. It is striking how life-altering a confrontation with the Looneys becomes, from an institutional point-of-view, for Blanchard and McCoy.

May 31, 2017

At School Board Attorney Wes Bridges’ recommendation, Assistant Superintendent of HR, Teddra Porteous contacts attorney Tom Gonzalez with the firm Thompson, Sizemore, and Hearing. She wants to set a sexual harassment training for executive staff at the district office. That’s roughly 30-40 people.

Who is Tom Gonzalez?

He is a founding partner of the Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing law firm of Tampa. Gonzalez is the former City Attorney of Tampa and former Hillsborough County School Board Attorney. See this link for his firm’s website.

In short, he is a heavy hitter in employment law for local governments. He has represented management in multiple ways for the Polk School District.

June 2, 2017

Blanchard informed that she will not be renewed as assistant principal at Tenoroc. Here’s how the investigation put it, in describing Blanchard’s statement:

Mr. Looney sent her an email asking to meet. She was called in to his office at about 3:30 pm and he told her that her contract was not being renewed for the coming school year. She stated that he said she was, “not a good fit.” When she questioned him he told her he is, “just choosing not to renew.

I want to quote the “unsubstantiated” investigation once again concerning the PDP.

“I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly.”

All but two schools, out of at least 10, to which Blanchard will apply in coming months will refuse to even interview her.

June 7, 2017

Emails indicate that Porteous and Gonzalez agree to hold the sexual harassment training on June 22, the date that the District is planning a regular executive staff meeting for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., as shown by Outlook calendars for that day.

“1:30 on the 22nd works well for us,” Porteous writes.

There is no “consultative services agreement” (CSA) created until months later. That CSA puts the date of the Gonzalez training on July 11, 2017, not June 22. But to this point, no sign-in sheet or scheduling agreement showing that the training occurred on July 11 has been produced by either the district or Gonzalez. And there is no sign of an executive staff meeting set for July 11.

District HR leadership has produced an undated, unlabeled power point presentation that it says was used as the basis of the training.

June 15, 2017

Southwest Elementary Principal Julie Sloan asks Superintendent Jackie Byrd to suspend McCoy without pay, saying: “This has created an uncomfortable environment for Ms. Looney.”

It is not clear why Sloan, who did not see the event and told police, “They are the same to each other,” chose to side so completely with Laquita Looney in her recommendation for disciplinary action.

June 22, 2017

This is the date of the executive staff meeting and the date agreed upon by Gonzalez and Porteous for giving the harassment training in their emails.

July 7, 2017

Tenoroc art teacher Sherry Ross, whom I had met once, a few months before, at the School District’s annual Arts Festival in Lakeland, contacts me. This is the second time we have ever spoken, to my knowledge. I do know her brother; but I did not realize they were related until almost a year later.

Ross said she is concerned about the firing of Brandi Blanchard and asked me to speak to her about it. This is the first time I ever heard about any of this.

Several other Tenoroc staff contacted me shortly afterward, asking the same thing. No one said anything, at that time, about sexual harassment.

It wasn’t until I spoke directly with Blanchard shortly afterward that I learned she was accusing Looney of sexual harassment — both directly and through favoritism toward Summer Fisher.

Also on or about July 7, Blanchard sends a complaint letter to district HR and leadership, in which she makes specific, firsthand allegations about Jason Looney and offers additional areas that the district should look into. Ross is cited by name in Blanchard’s original complaint email as a potential witness.

July 10, 2017

After speaking with Blanchard about her complaint, I send an email to top district leadership with the subject line: “A very serious HR problem at Teneroc.” [I stupidly misspelled Tenoroc for a while.]

“I have now spoken at length with Ms. Blanchard. I understand she has told the same information to some of you in writing. I take her allegations very, very seriously. Her allegations, are, in fact, far more serious, it seems to me, than those that led to the departure of the top officials in our accountability office. They describe a pattern — corroborated by others at other schools — of unacceptable behavior and leadership. What she describes is utterly contrary to the culture of professionalism, respect, and professional development that I demand from this district. If any one of you would like to call me, I am happy to elaborate further on my understanding and expectations.”

In an email exchange with Blanchard that day, I write:

“I want to be clear. I’m not in a position to “support” you in this at this point. But I take your allegations very seriously and I expect the district staff to, as well. We’ll see how this develops. And thank you for talking to me about it.”

I also copied Tami Dawson on my “HR problem” email. She’s the area superintendent who oversees Tenoroc. She’s the former principal of Lake Gibson High School. She responded with this:

“Hi Everyone,
I am currently away on vacation for the week and would be willing to touch base if needed. Mrs. Blanchard was placed on a development plan due to issues occurring this school year(and the last). I met with her along with Mr. Looney. Two issues were not responding to emergency situations involving students and not being visible in highly populated student areas (just not showing up for either). There were quite a few more and I can elaborate further if needed. Mrs. Blanchard did not show improvement based on what Mr. Looney asked her to do. He and I both conferred with Mr. Warren throughout the process.
Thank you,
Tami”

[“Mr. Warren” is Brian Warren, a top official in our HR department.]

In reality, the discipline letter about the fight call that Blanchard says she didn’t hear is the only documented discipline Blanchard has ever received. And the “unsubstantiated” investigation itself concluded the professional development plan (PDP) was defective and improperly filled out.

Dawson’s response immediately set off massive alarm bells for me. It elevated this to a systemic concern. I had not yet read the 2010 Looney/Jenkins report at that time, so the full scope of multi-year district leadership deference to the Looneys wasn’t yet clear to me. But this began to suggest it.

On that same day, although I did not include him on my note, School Board Member Tim Harris sent this response:

July 11, 2017

This is the date that Teddra Porteous says, months later, that “executive staff” receives sexual harassment training.  Click to enlarge.

The CSA says the Polk District pays $750 to Gonzalez. The invoice/contract associated with this actually has two dates associated with it — July 10 and July 17.

Nov. 17 appears to be the date Gonzalez signed the invoice/contract on Nov. 17, months after the events in question. I’m not sure why, other than Porteous’ explanation for not preparing a timely CSA.

I still cannot say with any certainty what occurred on June 22 or July 11. I know there was a training; because I’ve spoken to someone who took part in it. That person thinks it occurred on June 22. But I can’t say for certain.

This is particularly relevant because, one year later, Gonzalez is District leadership’s choice to review the Jason Looney investigations. I think that makes understanding exactly what happened on June 22 and on July 11 (and possibly July 17) very important.

When I raised questions about this training, a year later, in an article written June 13, 2018, I sent a link to Gonzalez to make him aware. He called me later in the same day.

I found his behavior and tone on the phone belligerent. But perceptions can vary. He also let me know that the District had asked him to perform the review. This was the first official confirmation of that I had received.

July 20, 2017

After some delay, Blanchard meets with investigators to discuss her email and her claims.

———————————————-

On the same day, I publish an essay called “Power, sex, and leadership: an urgent policy need.”

In that essay, I formally request a disclosure policy concerning romantic or sexual relationships between employees and supervisors. The District has currently has none. In that post, I make oblique reference to the Tenoroc issue and some others I had recently heard about. And I say this clearly:

“Since June, I’ve become aware of three personnel decisions or relationships tainted by allegations of favoritism or mistreatment tied to undisclosed consensual sexual relationships. I’ve been made aware by the public or close stakeholders who provided detailed accusations. I make no claims about the truth of the allegations — only their existence and detail.

One of three has already resolved itself with the departure of the top two officials in the District’s Accountability department. Two others are school-based. I’ve shared the same information given to me with District leadership and HR. I am satisfied for now that the information is being investigated. I am awaiting the outcome before speaking further on any details.

Why I’m speaking publicly now

I debated with myself whether to say anything at all publicly until the investigations have run their course. But Kathryn LeRoy’s behavior with a top subordinate tore gaping holes in the morale and direction of the school district for a year before it became public. Silence was deadly. And I harshly criticized the School Board for its silence and inaction, before and during last year’s campaign. Moreover, people with knowledge of the school and departmental communities surrounding these issues are openly talking about them. Nobody’s silence will change that. It just lets the poison circulate indefinitely.

Just as important, I want the people in our schools and district facilities to know that I will take allegations of abuse of power — sexual and otherwise — very, very seriously. The people who report abuse of power are always the most vulnerable to repercussions from that power. They need to know that their political leadership will hold their operational leadership accountable for a culture of fair and responsible leadership. That is how we will build common purpose and trust together.

So everyone should know: I am watching what happens here extremely closely. The toxicity that grows up around these issues is deadly to a sense of community. I won’t have it, if I can do anything at all about it.”

At a subsequent board meeting, HR leadership agreed to research such a policy and report back with suggestions. That has never happened.

July 21, 2017

I forward to district HR leadership a long and angry email from a Tenoroc staff member and witness, who was very critical of Looney. That witness was later interviewed by investigators.

The investigation said this about this teacher’s interaction with me:

[The teacher] discussed several issues she had with Mr. Looney, so I asked if she had addressed any of her concerns with Mr. Looney. She stated that in a conversation she had with School Board Member Billy Townsend she was told by Mr. Townsend to, “avoid Mr. Looney.” She stated Mr. Townsend said, “Looney knows everything,” to keep her distance from him and only speak with him if she was in a group setting.

HR never interviewed me about any of this. If they had, I would have told them that everyone who approached me about any of this was concerned about putting their names and careers on the line. The investigations are public record, as are the identities of the witnesses.

This teacher was not, at first, certain that she wanted to go on-the-record. And I talked to her about it. I don’t remember the precise quotes. But I did tell her that she should assume Looney knows everything about the investigation because of how much email traffic and activity was flying around. There was no way he was not going to find out who was talking and what they were saying in the course of the investigation.

As a matter of practical self-protection, I probably did advise her to avoid settings in which she would be alone with Looney to the best that she could in the framework of her job. Again, I don’t remember the conversation with precision. But that seems right; and it’s likely advice I would give again to anyone in the same situation.

It was certainly not any kind of order. It was advice on self-protection. I will happily discuss this with any outside reviewer.

July 23, 2017

Jason Looney sends an email to investigators and district leadership complaining about Sherry Ross and a former Tenoroc teacher. He blames them for the “rumors” at THS. Looney states the reason he sent the email was because he was contacted by a faculty member saying Ross was planning a meeting the previous Friday (7/21) and was encouraging people to attend. Ross was in Chicago July 18 – 22.

And although she was mentioned as a potential witness by Blanchard and attacked by Looney and another Tenoroc teacher by name, Ross has never been interviewed by investigators.

Here is the full text of the Looney email/letter about Ross:

Good afternoon,
I am writing this email because it was brought to my attention on Friday by one of the staff members at Tenoroc that several teachers were contacted and asked to attend a lunch with Brandi Blanchard, Sherry Ross, and XXXXXX. The teacher also said that Sherry Ross was behind a lot of the rumors that are being spread. This is consistent with Mrs. Ross actions since my first year at Tenoroc. Prior to me starting at Tenoroc, Mrs. Ross was displaced. Once I was appointed as principal, I was told by David Lewis and Denny Dunn that I needed [cq] allow her to come back. When I communicated this to the Assistant Principals at the time, they shared with me the issues she caused prior to me arriving. This shows that she has continued to negatively impact the school climate before my arrival and throughout my principalship at Tenoroc.

XXXXXX XXXXX has also openly questioned my decisions and attempted to undermine any decisions I have made as principal. Whether it was county mandated or an initiative of mine, she spoke openly about why she felt it should not be implemented. She also met with teachers alongside Mrs. Ross. She has attempted to engage me and Assistant Principals during staff meetings. She grieved me twice and both hearing officers said I had the right to make the decisions I made. Even after she left the staff earlier this year, she continued to contact my staff without my knowledge. She has forward PEA information even though I already had two reps on campus, questioning some of my teachers about planning time.

I have known for years that Mrs. Ross and XXXXXX held meetings and tried to recruit/encourage as many teachers as possible to support whatever issue they had with me. Currently Mrs. Ross is continuing with spreading false rumors and attempting to encourage my staff to join them. Towards the end of the school year, she started the rumor mill again. She started the rumor on the campus that I was being moved and many of the rumors Brandi Blanchard has communicated. Her actions have been and continue to be toxic. I know the actions of both individuals have negatively impacted our culture and effectiveness. There are other concerns that I have no problem with sharing if the information is needed.

Mrs. Ross has been behind the rumors that were spread about Ms. Fisher and me. Staff members — present and past — has shared this information with me. There is not any involvement between Ms. Fisher and me. I was not moved from George Jenkins because there was an affair. I interviewed for the Tenoroc principal position and was ultimately chosen. That was a promotion. People normally are not promoted when they are moved for reason [cq] that would result in discipline. That in itself shows the thought process of someone that would make up a rumor. I was appointed to Tenoroc in July of 2012. I was the principal there a full year. After the first year, both of my assistant principals and academic coaches were moved. There was not a pool of academic coaches at that times [cq]. I found a math coach that Aaron Smith approved and my science coach was approved by the person over Science (can’t remember the person’s name). The idea to bring Ms. Fisher to Tenoroc came up in a conversation in my office with XXXX XXXX after the school year started and we could not find anyone that would be effective in that position. She asked me if I had worked with a good reading teacher previously as an assistant principal. I responded to her by saying there was only good reading teacher that I previously worked with at Jenkins. Her response was that she would only recommend one reading teacher from Jenkins. We were both referring [cq] Ms. Fisher. Mrs. Fisher was screened by Mrs. Byrd and Ms. Bowen. She was hired as the Literacy Coach at Tenoroc based on her student achievement data and her effectiveness as a reading teacher.

I also wanted to share some information about Brandi Blanchard’s contract not being renewed. I will touch on a few items that were the major reason for my decision. First, was her treatment towards our students at Tenoroc. I had students that she spoke to directly as well as students that witnessed her speaking to other students, parents, counselors and administrators. While many times theses [cq] students were in the wrong because of their actions, the words and the tone that she used to reprimand students was not professional or ethical. Many of the people that brought this to my attention were emotional (some cried) while explaining what she said. I recall a situation in my office that I had witnessed with her making a comment to the young men that were there. She said that they were worthless and an embarrassment to their families. I stopped her immediately, asked her to step into the hallway and told her never speak to one of our students again that way. I also explained to her that she has never heard me talk that way to students and we do not treat people that way on Tenoroc’s campus. I have other situations that I’m willing to share if needed.

To settle Sherry Ross’ grievance, the district officially “rescinded” Looney’s email/letter on May 25, 2018, almost 10 months after it was written. Looney has received no discipline of any kind for writing it, even though the district won’t stand by it.

It has been placed in her personnel file, with the “rescinded” note attached.

July 25, 2017

At a School Board meeting, I cast the lone vote against the slate of administrators that includes Blanchard’s replacement. I do not mention the names or schools involved because I had been told the investigation was ongoing. See video here.

July 27, 2017

Sherry Ross notices something odd about her schedule for the next school year:

“I check my IDEAS and realize that no freshmen are included in my classes.  I contact the freshman guidance counselor via text and tell her.  She said it was odd and would check on Monday,” according to a timeline she provided me.

Ross considers this harmful to her Art program at Tenoroc; and Ross begins to suspect retaliation.

July 29, 2017

Sherry Ross sends an email to district Fine Arts leadership detailing how preventing freshmen from enrolling in Art hurts her program.

“I’d like to call your attention to my class rosters on IDEAS. Of my three level one classes….. I have ONE ninth grader out of 66 students. I am being set up to fail with the high number of at risk kids. More importantly, stacking my classes with upper level kids in a level one class will tank my AP numbers within a year or two.  My course requests were FULL of ninth graders. I kept a copy, I will try to locate them and show you both.  When questioned by the ninth grade counselor, my APC, Bradley Hardesty stated he was handling the art schedules himself. I have been told that it was brought up in several freshman academy meetings that they wished to keep ninth graders out of my classes because of the “high failure rate”. That is categorically false and derogatory to me, my program, and therefore, my dedicated art students.”

At the time she sent this email, Ross had no knowledge that Looney had attacked her by name in the July 23 email to investigators and district leadership.

July 31, 2017

The district formally notifies Juanita McCoy that she has been suspended without pay for five days.

As McCoy wrote to me: “I was disciplined with Suspension without Pay for a period of five days retroactively by way of pay without receiving an investigative report and final determination letter that would have afforded me the right to appeal.”

Week of August 1st

[A senior Arts leader] comes to THS and pulls all student requests and identifies students that should have been placed in art. This quick, decisive action is the only real evidence of true leadership I have seen from a district leader in dealing with this entire issue. The enrollment concern is fixed.

August 3, 2017

District HR sends this email to Juanita McCoy’s non-union representation confirming her involuntary transfer.

“In the absence of Mr. Kirk and Ms. Green for the remainder of the week, I can confirm that Ms. McCoy was involuntarily transferred from Southwest Elementary School to Sleepy Hill Elementary as an ESE (Exceptional Student Education) Pre-Kindergarten Teacher where she reported today, August 3, 2017, the first teacher work day for the 17-18 school year.

Attached please find the June 15, 2017 Request for Suspension and the July 12, 2017 confirmation of the involuntary transfer.”

August 7, 2017

District HR confirms it performed no investigation on the Looney-McCoy confrontation beyond the police report.

“Mr. Kirk and Ms. Green have confirmed there is no Polk County School District investigative report.  Attached please find the July 31, 2017 Five-Day Suspension letter.
I believe Ms. McCoy’s personnel file should be arriving from Mr. Geary under separate cover. Thank you.”

August 9, 2017

Jason Looney interviewed by investigators for Blanchard case.

Ross emails Wynne-Green to ask when she will be interviewed for the case since she believed she was being retaliated against because of the investigation. She is never interviewed.

August 10, 2017

Ross files union grievance alleging retaliation by Looney.

August 11, 2017

Wynn-Green replies to Ross’s email and says she was “not aware of your name being mentioned in a complaint past or present made by Ms. Blanchard.” Ross responds with direct quotes from Blanchard’s email complaint that included her name as a potential witness.

August 17, 2017

After learning that the District was denying Blanchard’s unemployment claim — after replacing her — while the investigation was supposed to be ongoing, I send an admittedly angry email to district leaders and investigator Carol Wynn-Green. Here is the text:

“I find it infuriating that we are appealing Brandi Garcia Blanchard’s unemployment claim.

“I believe everything she says. I believe she should be reinstated immediately and apologized to from our knees. I have confidence in the fact that she never had a problem in this district until she ran into Jason Looney. I have confidence in the many people at Teneroc and outside Teneroc that have vouched for her performance. I believe she was both directly sexually harassed and subjected to an environment that is textbook for a hostile work environment based on sexualized culture.

“I have no confidence in the leadership of Teneroc High School. I have no confidence in the process that got us to this point.

“As an elected board member, I have no ability to do anything about this directly. But I can assure you that I will do whatever I can within my role to correct this abomination.

“If anyone needs to reach me, 863-209-4037.”

At the time I wrote this, I had not discussed the investigation publicly because I wanted to give the district a chance to investigate.  At this point, I feared that replacing Blanchard and appealing her unemployment claim suggested the ongoing investigation was a sham.

I was clear about the limits of my power. And the District eventually dropped the appeal of Blanchard’s unemployment claim. But I would reword this email if I had it to do over again. And I would not include Wynn-Green on the correspondence, although I did want her to know that the District was denying Blanchard’s claim.

This is the one action, in all of this, that I wish I had done somewhat differently. I’m happy to answer any questions about it.

And it must be said, now that everything has played out, I still have no confidence in this process.

August 19, 2017

I forward to HR leadership an email I received from a Tenoroc teacher, who was very supportive of Looney and Fisher.

To my knowledge, I have shared all information I have received from all sides with leadership in the interest of a fair and accurate investigation and outcome.

August 22, 2017

While Jason Looney is under investigation and Laquita Looney’s complaint against McCoy is working through State Attorney’s Office, the Looney family appears at School Board meeting for their son to say pledge of allegiance.

Board Chair Kay Fields declares, “You know I know your mom, from when she was a little girl.”

Several Tenoroc teachers speak in Summer Fisher/Jason Looney’s defense. One addresses me directly, by name. I do not respond because the investigation is ongoing. 

August 24, 2017

Jason Looney calls Tenoroc faculty meeting for August 31.

August 25, 2017

Two months after the incident between McCoy and Laquita Looney, the State Attorney Office decides to prosecute Juanita McCoy. This decision was made, the SAO told me, after seeking input from Laquita Looney, who told them she wanted McCoy prosecuted.  

August 27, 2017

Assistant Principal Bradley Hardesty confirms that the Tenoroc faculty meeting is mandatory.

August 31, 2017

Tenoroc meeting held. Tim Harris lectures assembled teachers, including Sherry Ross and other witnesses or potential witnesses in the investigation. Harris expresses complete support for Looney and says Superintendent Byrd feels the same way. A staff member tapes the speech. Transcript available at this link.

Here is a crucial excerpt:

I appreciate those of you were comfortable enough to send those emails, some of whom I did reply. And as a result of those emails I felt like it was important for myself and the superintendent to come out and speak with you and show our support — and support of Mr. Looney.

Unfortunately, the superintendent cannot be here she has a very important family issue. [Inaudible] She’s out of the office for several days. So keep her in your prayers please.

I personally have gone through situations in my career, and I was with the school district for 31 years before I ran for School Board, where I had a supervisor, let’s just say had a different paradigm from mine.

I finally got to the point where I could handle the different paradigm because I decided that myself and that supervisor were always going to disagree. We just had a totally different philosophy of life. When I finally got to those mental positions with those three separate supervisors, I was able to deal with it a lot better and accept their differences from mine. It made looking for another job a lot easier mentally.

Our HR department has never investigated this meeting, which, on its face, has every appearance of institutional witness tampering.

I can’t explain why we have not looked into it. It’s all right there in facts that are not in dispute.

September 1, 2017

I send an email to HR leadership asking for clarification on the District’s position in the light of Harris’ speech at Looney’s mandatory faculty meeting.

I don’t want to burden Jackie with this. 
But I have a recording of — and have listened to — Tim Harris’ speech at the mandatory meeting for faculty and staff at Teneroc yesterday, Aug. 31. 
I would like to know if his speech represents the district’s official position. He spoke pretty clearly on Jackie’s behalf about Looney having her full support. And he said a number of other pretty specific things to a captive audience of district employees. 
If he does represent the district’s officials position on this, I would assume the sexual harassment investigation — the second focused on Looney in seven years — is complete. I would like a copy of it. When can I pick it up? 
If he doesn’t represent the district’s position, I guess we’ll just deal with that.
Thanks much.
HR Director Teddra Porteous responds a few hours later.
Hi Mr. Townsend,
Mrs. Byrd has not made me aware of any District position or statement on this matter as Mr. Looney’s investigation is still ongoing. 
Regarding your second issue, the investigation report is a public record. Once it is complete and finalized, we will provide you a copy of the report at that time.
Thanks,
Teddra

September 5, 2017

I ask Tim Harris about that meeting and his speech during a board work session. See the video below. This is also the first time I publicly discussed the 2010 investigation of the Looneys.

Harris says he was not aware of the active investigation, even though he emailed this to multiple people on July 10.

The entire discussion is very brief. It’s the first discussion on the video, contained in the first couple of minutes. This is where Kay Fields says:

“And I guess my response to that would be that was seven years ago. And I would imagine that if there was anything we should be aware of that the staff would have told us by now. I would hope and pray they would.”

September 25, 2017

Wynn-Green’s Blanchard/Looney investigation closed. It becomes public record 10 days later. Blanchard’s claims are found not sustained. Here is the very detailed account I wrote at the time.

Within that article, I said Tim Harris should resign because of his appearance and the content of his speech at Tenoroc.

September 29, 2017

Deputy Superintendent John Small retires. He will promptly go to work for K12, an online learning company with an existing vendor relationship with the District as a Polk Virtual School provider.

A few months later, I will ask for a policy governing disclosure of personal relationships in Polk District contracting at a meeting in January 2018.

Nothing has happened.

Fall 2017

At some point in the Fall, a meeting is held to discuss the $1.8 million “Sales Quote” for K12. John Small is there. I don’t know the date of this meeting. So I don’t know who employed him at the time.

Here is how Jackie Byrd described this meeting:

“Dr. Hutek brought this to my attention several months after he signed it; I immediately asked that the matter be reviewed.  As the result of my request, a meeting was held last fall with representatives of K-12, including Don Kidd, Vice President, John Small, Dr. Hutek and myself.  Attached to this letter is Dr. Hutek’s memorandum confirming this meeting and the action taken.”

In fairness to John Small, he has never hidden his employer. It’s right there on his Linked-In page. In fact, he very recently handed me a K12 card after an event on May 22, 2018. I didn’t know anything, at that time, about K12’s relationship to the District or what Small was doing within that relationship. Even with the District finally responding, I still have many questions.

October 2, 2017

I write the article contained in this link about concerns I was hearing that Jackie Byrd would bring former chief academic officer Jacque Bowen back to Polk County. Bowen was one of the Jacksonville transplants who came with Kathryn LeRoy and left shortly after LeRoy’s departure. Literally no one I ever talked to who worked with her wanted her to come back here.

Also, Bowen appears to have some sort of role with K12.

Byrd subsequently appointed Marc Hutek as acting deputy superintendent.

October 4, 2017

Sherry Ross’ union grievance hearing over the schedule changes is held. At the time of her grievance hearing for retaliation, Ross did not know that Looney had attacked her in writing on July 23rd because the district did not tell her. She learned about the email from me. I learned about it from reading the first Tenoroc investigation, which included it with no rebuttal interview of Ross.

That email later became a part of Ross’ grievance.

After the first hearing, “I was told I’d have my result in seven days,” Ross told me.

October 10, 2017

Board discusses outcome of first Tenoroc discussion. This is a crucial discussion. Please watch in its entirety.

I ask Jackie Byrd if Harris spoke for her in her support for Looney at the Tenoroc faculty meeting. She says she supports all employees, but would not otherwise answer the question.

October 10, 2017

Later in that same meeting, the four long-term School Board members — Harris, Fields, Sellers, and Cunningham — reject the time and effort of a volunteer RFQ committee for Financial Advisor services.

They vote 4-3 to keep long-term advisor Ford and Associates. I voted to follow the RFQ recommendation and lost. I wrote about this surreal decision in the article in this link. You can also see the video there.

Key excerpt from my article:

As I understand it, there are really only two firms in Florida that specialize in School District financial advice: Ford & Associates and PFM. The Polk District has used Ford for years, perhaps decades. The long-term incumbent board members often refer to the principal as “Jerry.” Not too long ago, PFM approached district staff and suggested a debt restructuring that saved taxpayers some millions of dollars.

That apparently got staff to thinking about whether we would benefit from competition for this professional service. And the School Board agreed to move forward with a Request for Qualifications. Now, let’s be clear: PFM didn’t approach us out of the goodness of their hearts. They were trying to demonstrate their value so that they could get a crack at our/taxpayer business. It was a sales strategy, something that happens endlessly in business.

If we had simply switched to PFM quietly, that would have been hinky and uncool. But that’s not what we did. We created an RFQ. We recruited a committee of finance experts who do not work for the Polk School District. And we asked them to rank the two firms based on qualifications.

The committee included finance officials from the cities of Lakeland, Bartow, and Winter Haven. The taxpayers of Lakeland, Winter Haven, and Bartow lent us their time in good faith — because the taxpayers of Bartow, Lakeland, and Winter Haven have an interest in ensuring that your school district leadership supports our teachers and staff with effective financial policies.

The scoring was clear. The committee believed PFM had more resources and better capability to do the work. This seemed like a no-brainer to me, despite my supposed lack of major board experience. But it wasn’t.

I also wrote this.

When Lynn Wilson pointed out that nothing stopped Jerry Ford from suggesting the same idea that PFM suggested, Tim Harris replied:

“I think he was resting his case on the fact he had a 20-year working relationship that he had never been told was not positive.”

And here you see Tim’s governing philosophy encapsulated in one beautifully articulate sentence.

If relationship matters more than performance, initiative, and capability, how does any new provider of anything crack the $1.4 billion taxpayer budget we oversee? How do we better broaden our base of business to minority-owned firms? How do verify that we’re getting the most value from our vendors. How do we innovate?

Let’s be clear again: I’m tough on staff from time to time. But they did their jobs here, in every way that I can see. This is entirely the doing of the long-term incumbent “experienced” elected board members. They made the call, overruling everybody and wasting everybody’s time and taxpayer money. That’s why we need to replace the three that are up for re-election in 2018.

October 16, 2017

The Polk District holds a mandatory pep rally for teachers at Joker Marchant Stadium. A group of people, some of them Tenoroc alumni, picket the pep rally with signs critical of sexual harassment and Jason Looney.

————————————

Later, School Board Attorney Wes Bridges confirms something I had heard a few days before:

Jason Looney has been asking the Florida School Board Association how he might file some sort of complaint against me. From Bridges email to the Board:

“I have been asked to advise you that the Florida School Boards Association has been contacted in connection with comments published about a Polk County high school principal. The individual complained that such comments may constitute an abuse of power and misconduct in office.  FSBA is not an executive branch agency, nor is it a regulatory body.  Accordingly, it has no police or enforcement powers.  It is, however, close to the center of the education universe in Florida, and if its officers are receiving calls, governmental agencies may be, as well.”

October 17, 2017

A day after the sexual harassment protest at the Joker Marchant Stadium teacher pep rally — and Wes Bridges’s note — Teddra Porteous writes her own note to Superintendent Jackie Byrd about the sexual harassment training held during the summer.

This letter is in reference to paying Tom Gonzalez’s bill for $750.83 for conducting the Sexual Harassment Training. This training occurred on July 11, 2017 for executive staff.

I scheduled this training when I did not have a secretary and I failed to complete a CSA. We are requesting the bill be paid in full and in the future, a CSA will be completed, prior to and trainings of this nature.

Again, this is the first time that July 11 is ever mentioned in connection with sexual harassment training or Tom Gonzalez. The evidence currently available suggests to me that the training most likely occurred on June 22. I don’t know what, if anything, occurred on July 11.

Fall 2017

According to Jackie Byrd’s statement, Hutek becomes concerned at some point in the fall about the sales quote he signed. He brings those concerns to her. It’s not clear what those concerns were or if any specific issue what prompted Hutek to go to Byrd. Byrd orders some sort of review.

Late October/Early November 2017

In the wake for Hutek’s concerns District officials and K12 officials have meeting about the “Sales Quote.” John Small and Don Kidd represent K12. Hutek and Byrd represent the district.

The District made reference to this meeting in documentation it provided on June 7; but it did not date the meeting precisely. It simply said it occurred in the Fall of 2017.

So I emailed Hutek, Byrd, Small, and School Board Attorney Wes Bridges that night (June 7). I asked them for a precise date for the meeting. And I asked who John Small worked for at the time of the meeting.

Hutek answered on June 9. No one else ever did.

I was unable to identify the exact date for the meeting that occurred.  I have narrowed the timeline to sometime between the last week of October to the first 2 weeks of November of 2017.  Also, I am not aware of when John Small went to work for K12.

Hutek later confirmed that Small represented K12 in the meeting. Small’s Linked-In page says he’s been a K12 VP since October. And he retired from the District at the end of September. So the only logical assumption here is that he was representing K12 in the meeting while on the K12 payroll.

I don’t know what was said in the meeting. But I would like to know.

To be clear, I have no particular problem, on its face, with John Small taking part in meetings with staff while representing a vendor he works for. I have a problem with the School Board not being made aware of it promptly. But perhaps we do need a policy governing how quickly former employees can turn around and make money off the District — sort of like a lobbying policy.

To recap, here is what Byrd said about the meeting in her June 7 statement:

“Dr. Hutek brought this to my attention several months after he signed it; I immediately asked that the matter be reviewed.  As the result of my request, a meeting was held last fall with representatives of K-12, including Don Kidd, Vice President, John Small, Dr. Hutek and myself.  Attached to this letter is Dr. Hutek’s memorandum confirming this meeting and the action taken.”

Several months later, in an email to Don Kidd, K12’s VP of Strategic Sales, sent on March 12, 2018, Hutek wrote:

“As you recall, our superintendent, you, John Small, and me met last fall regarding the concerns involved with this purchase. We were all very clear that there is not a valid board/superintendent approved specifically for the purchase you are referring to.”

This meeting seems crucial to understanding what’s happened here — as does whatever prompted Hutek to go to Byrd about the K12 Sales Quote, “several months after he signed it.”

November 8 or so

The second Looney/Tenoroc investigation becomes public. It also finds there is not enough evidence to substantiate any allegations. Here is the account I wrote at the time.

Reviewing it again, I find this sequence from investigator Brandi Mease’s conclusion astonishing:

“Ms. Blanchard’s termination was based on Mr. Looney’s observations of her work performance. Mr. Looney felt that Ms. Blanchard was not effective in her duties as an assistant principal. He provided a copy of a letter of discipline, as well as, a Professional Development Plan. [Looney] stated that after Ms. Blanchard was informed of the Professional Development Plan, she made no efforts to correct her behavior.”

The last sentence is blatantly false, even according to Looney. Here is his response to Blanchard’s detailed Feb. 27 email explaining her progress against the defective PDP. I quoted it previously.

“Good afternoon: When we met for the interim, I mentioned that progress had [cq] made. I didn’t say the PDP was complete. I did say it would last the rest of the school year. I’m focusing on the improvement to the items in the PDP to become a way of work not just a snapshot of two or more months. We will continue the PDP until the end of the school year.”

Let’s repeat that: “When we met for the interim, I mentioned that progress had [cq] made.”

Jason Looney wrote that in an email. Thus, it is utterly false, by Looney’s own words, to say Blanchard made no efforts to meet even the defective PDP.

Moreover, Mease cites the defective PDP as justification for not renewing Blanchard. She does this, literally, one page after writing this about the defectiveness of the PDP.

I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly.

Moreover, Mease says Looney told her the George Jenkins investigation “had been completely unfounded.” That is false. Let me repeat that in bold. That is false. In fact, “unfounded” was an option for a finding in that report. Investigators chose “not sustained.” Unfounded would have meant “allegation is false or not based on valid facts.” It was not “unfounded,” much less “completely.”

I don’t know what else to say about any of that.

On or about November 10

Jackie Byrd and I have our one and only phone conversation concerning the now complete Looney investigations. I don’t recall the exact day; but records on my phone say it was probably November 10. Our discussion is inconclusive. I told Byrd my top immediate priority was Brandi Blanchard’s well-being. I believed then and continue to believe now that she is the victim of extraordinarily brutal institutional cruelty and misbehavior.

November 15, 2017

Tim Harris announces he will not seek re-relection.

November 17, 2017

This is the date that Tom Gonzalez signs the CSA for sexual harassment training for executive staff on July 11.

Late November 2017

I have first direct contact with Juanita McCoy concerning the May 31, 2017 incident with Laquita Looney. I can’t remember how exactly we first came in contact. I think she reached out to me by email, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I had heard some talk from a friend of hers about it much earlier. But I did not start to research it until McCoy and I spoke directly.

November 29, 2017

Via email, Juanita McCoy provides me a detailed timeline of events leading up to May 31 and following them.

December 8, 2017

After attending an HR-related panel discussion at the Florida School Board Association’s annual conference in November, I make a formal request for an outside review of the District’s institutional behavior toward the Looneys. The panel discussion convinced me that this was the correct step to take.

This is the core of my request, which I sent to Jackie Byrd and Wes Bridges, as has now been reported publicly.

Good afternoon:

I am formally requesting an outside, non-HR, non-School District investigation of:

  1. The confrontation between Laquita Looney and Juanita McCoy on May 31, 2017 including the context/conflict over an ESE student that preceded it and the decision to punish McCoy without a formal HR investigation.

  2. A comprehensive review of the District’s institutional behavior relating to Jason and Laquita Looney dating at least to the events described in the 2010 investigation of their behavior at George Jenkins High School.

  3. Lessons learned from #1 and #2 that can form the basis of human capital management reform in the district.

At that time, both Byrd and Bridges indicated they would move forward. I never received any update. So I made my request public on May 27th, 2018. Here is the statement Jackie Byrd issued in response:

“Several months ago, at School Board member Billy Townsend’s request, School Board attorney Wes Bridges and I did discuss hiring a third-party investigator to review the allegations against Principal Jason Looney and the findings of our internal investigators.

“At the time, I made the decision not to pursue such an investigation for two reasons: The expense of an outside investigation would strain the School District’s already very limited financial resources, and it would set a troublesome precedent.

“I remain opposed to diverting money from our classrooms to conduct third-party employee investigations, and I remain confident in the abilities of my internal investigators. However, because this issue continues to be a source of distraction and division, I have recently agreed to have an outside investigator review our handling of the allegations against Mr. Looney. I look forward to finally bringing resolution to this matter, because our children deserve unified leadership working on their behalf.”

As you can see, this is not what I asked for in December.

December 12, 2017

After being refused interviews with multiple schools, Blanchard is hired as an assistant principal at Kathleen Middle School, where she will work out the school year quietly. The specific position is a demotion.

I suspect she was only hired because of me and the pressure I brought. While I did tell Byrd that I thought Blanchard had been horribly wronged by the institution and deserved a fair chance to work, I did not, ever, mention a specific school where Blanchard should be sent.

I wish Blanchard had not been sent to a “turnaround” school, where the staff is under great pressure from the state and district. I think it was unfair for this to fall on Kathleen Middle. And I think this was probably a terrible situation for everybody.

I have no idea what’s in store for Brandi Blanchard’s future. Every indication I have is that she is thoroughly unwelcome in Polk County and any consideration she has received is grudging at best.

December 14, 2017

More than two months after her grievance hearing, Ross’ grievance for retaliation is denied. This decision was supposed to take only a few days. Ross appeals.

January 4, 2018

Attorney Nora Leto informs the Polk District that she has filed lawsuits on behalf of Blanchard and Ross. Both are awaiting clearance from the EEOC.

January 2018

This Polk Virtual School Portal, “powered by FuelEd,” comes online in January, according to statements by Hutek in response to questions I asked via email.

The student self-enrollment portal is up and running and yes we are using it.  Course enrollments are still low due to it coming online following the beginning of second semester and not having NCAA approval for the courses….

…It came online in January and has been in use.  Students may use it even during the summer.  Other than FLVS, we do not have another portal…

…K12 stated they would be writing a press release regarding the portal approximately one month following its release this past January.   After approximately two months and multiple conversations regarding me providing a statement, I reluctantly complied with their request.

I do not know how this portal came into existence. I don’t know if the School District paid for it. I don’t know if I voted for it. I don’t know if this portal provides access to classes other than K12/Fuel Education classes. I know basically nothing about the portal.

I do know that K12/Fuel Education marketing material says that the Polk District asked for it.

“Recently, Polk County Public Schools asked FuelEd to help them create a custom enrollment portal to make it easier for students to use these courses to fulfill their state requirements rather than turn to outside providers.”

Oddly enough, I have struggled mightily to understand how anyone can access the portal for classes. The Polk Virtual School website looks like this.

January 9, 2018

In light of the Acceleration Academy debacle and settlement, I request a disclosure policy for personal relationships related to School Board business or contracts. Here is the account in the minutes:

[Townsend] voiced concern in cases of conflicts of interest. Referencing the Acceleration Academy contract implemented by former Superintendent Kathryn Leroy. He suggested that with any contract or agenda item, if there is a personal relationship with staff or board member, it should be disclosed. He stated he discloses his family relationship with Lake Wales attorney Robin Gibson every time an issue arises with the Lake Wales Charter system.

I believe this is the final time that I raised a discussion of either of the Looneys at a board meeting. In an exchange with HR Director Teddra Porteous, I wrongly said there wasn’t an eyewitness to the alleged touch on the back by Juanita McCoy. There was; and I corrected that later that day in an email to leadership.

I also corrected the record at our School Board retreat a few days later.

At the time, I had not listened to the tapes of the witness statements, so I did not know that the eyewitness’s account contradicted Laquita Looney’s statement. I wish I had known then.

January 2018

Hutek and K12 begin discussions about district co-operation in a press release/testimonial for K12 about the portal.

K12 stated they would be writing a press release regarding the portal approximately one month following its release this past January.  After approximately two months and multiple conversations regarding me providing a statement, I reluctantly complied with their request.

It is not clear who, specifically, is representing K12 in this testimonial discussion.

January 2018

With Blanchard employed and an outside review supposedly in the works, I decide to mute my public criticism and scrutiny of the Looney situation and give leadership a chance to work.

February 6, 2018

HR Director Teddra Porteous writes a letter about Sherry Ross as part of the grievance process. It says, among other things, that “Ms. Ross is a valuable teacher and we are grateful to have her as part of our team.”

February 14, 2018

Parkland shooting occurs. I think it’s fair to note that the demands of the response to Parkland made it hard to focus attention on something systemic and challenging like our HR and workplace culture.

Moreover, the ongoing issues with turnaround schools and destructive state mandates demands a huge portion of leadership attention. I think it’s also fair to note that.

March 12, 2018

Hutek replies to an email from Don Kidd, K12’s VP of Strategic Sales about a “payment schedule.” Here is the full text of what Hutek writes:

I received your voice mail and have since reviewed your email regarding the “payment schedule.” As you recall, our superintendent, you, John Small, and me met last fall regarding the concerns involved with this purchase. We were all very clear that there is not a valid board/superintendent approved specifically for the purchase you are referring to. The K12 contract that went to the board provided the costs involved with your products but did not commit to a specific number of seats to be purchased. At that meeting the school district was very clear that we would pay for all license seats used. To the best of my knowledge we have made the appropriate payments for the seats used and that have been billed. It is not our intention to pay for seats until our students use them.

As always, I appreciate your assistance, have a great day. Marc. 

The District has not yet made public the “payment schedule” email that Hutek had reviewed and responded to, so I don’t know what it says.

—————————————————

Moreover, here is an organizational/stakeholder management point.

Let’s assume everything here is on the up-and-up for a second.

If I were Jackie Byrd, the moment staff and K12 met in the fall to discuss the invalid signed sales quote, I would have come immediately to every board member and explained it.

Maybe you get five minutes of tough questions and board unhappiness. But then it’s over and done; and the board can have confidence that internal issues are being handled professionally and mistakes acknowledged.

And I would have absolutely come to the School Board in March at the moment Hutek got a “payment schedule” from K12 related to the invalid Sales Quote.

Not doing either makes everything look sketchy and invites more and more questions. As long as I’m on the School Board, the days of hoping issues go away by ignoring them is over.

Some time in March 2018

Hutek acquiesces to K12/Fuel Education’s requests for a testimonial/press release.

K12 stated they would be writing a press release regarding the portal approximately one month following its release this past January.  After approximately two months and multiple conversations regarding me providing a statement, I reluctantly complied with their request.

May 4, 2018

The State Attorney’s Office drops all charges against Juanita McCoy in the Laquita Looney incident.

So collapses the only investigation justifying the unpaid suspension and involuntary school transfer that McCoy received.

May 14, 2018

This is the dateline of a K12 article article/testimonial on its website titled: “Fuel Education Enables Polk County, Florida Students to Self-Enroll in District Online Courses”. 

Here is a key excerpt:

Polk County Public Schools has partnered with FuelEd for years to provide students with quality online content. Recently, Polk County Public Schools asked FuelEd to help them create a custom enrollment portal to make it easier for students to use these courses to fulfill their state requirements rather than turn to outside providers. To see the Polk County portal, click here: https://polk.fueleducation.com/

I cannot figure out how to access the portal from any online location other than this K12/Fuel Education press release.

I do not remember asking FuelED or K12 or anyone to create a “custom enrollment portal.” The summary of the contract I voted for in May 2017 did not include any reference to a “custom enrollment portal.”  I am going to scour the actual contract to see if I can find any such reference.

This article testimonial goes on to quote Hutek as saying:

“The Student Enrollment Portal has been an excellent solution for Polk County Public Schools on multiple fronts,” said Dr. Marc Hutek, Assistant Superintendent of Polk County Public Schools. “We’ve had a great experience using FuelEd for the blended learning courses that we offer in our schools, so we offered students FuelEd to fulfill their online course graduation requirement. The Portal not only streamlines the enrollment process and is simple for students to use, but it is helping us keep more funding in the district by recovering those funds that have been traditionally lost to other virtual programs.”

As a general rule, I don’t know when or if the School Board authorized District employees to take part in marketing material for businesses.

May 15, 2018

During a break in our work session, I ask Jackie Byrd privately to consider preserving the right for teachers/staff to transfer from Tenoroc if Jason Looney is reappointed. I do not ask her if he will be reappointed. She does not give an indication of her thinking on either matter. It is the third and final time I have had any direct private conversation with Byrd concerning anything related to the Looneys. [It is possible this happened at the meeting before this one. I don’t fully trust my memory. But it was one of the two.]

Later, Jackie Byrd introduces Auburndale High School Principal John Hill as the new deputy superintendent. He is the permanent replacement for John Small. Hill has been a successful principal at Auburndale High for 11 years. Little to none of what I’ve documented here seems to touch him, unlike almost every other important leader in the district of the last decade. I hope that he can help steer us in a better leadership direction.

Hill beat out Hutek, who was not my top choice either, as well as other candidates.

May 22, 2018

John Small hands me a K12 business card at an event. I wanted to call him for background information about the Looneys. Again, at this time, I knew nothing about K12; so I thought nothing of it.

Two days later [might have been the next day], I receive information about the possible deal with K12. It was $1.8 million for roughly 5,000 seats, exactly the parameters of the “Sales Quote.”

I became concerned that I might have voted for this deal without realizing it; and I wanted to know if Small negotiated it.

So I haven’t called Small directly. Rather than call him, I decided to include him officially on a couple of emails I sent to district leadership about the Looneys and K12. He hasn’t responded, which is fine. He’s not a District employee.

It’s the District’s responsibility to share relevant activities of its former employees with contractors, not John Small’s.

May 23rd and 24th, 2018

Assistant Principals Summer Fisher and Bradley Hardesty are transferred out of Tenoroc High School. Jason Looney is apparently left in place as principal.

May 24th, 2018

The District confirms to me there is no record of any discipline of any kind issued to Jason Looney, ever.

May 24th, 2018

I become aware of the $1.8 million K12 contract/Sales Quote. [Might have been a day before.]

Later in the day, after listening to taped witness statements in the Looney-McCoy issue on my way to and from the Polk Schools Hall of Fame banquet; after seeing no action on my request of outside review; and considering the personnel moves that have happened and not happened, I decide to end my self-imposed silence about the Looney issue.

I send this email to staff leadership:

“The State Attorney’s Office has dropped all charges against Juanita McCoy, giving this reason. Please see the attached sheet.

Based on the facts and circumstances of this case, the State will not proceed.”

It was not for lack of trying on Laquita Looney’s part. My inquiries into the case show that it’s Mrs. Looney who pushed this case from the start and that we, uncritically, took her side and found her blameless. The state pursued prosecution at all only based on Mrs. Looney’s wishes. Now that they have concluded there is no case, will we revisit Ms. McCoy’s suspension?

We did no investigation of our own. Our suspension was based entirely on a police report that the State Attorney’s Office will not prosecute based on its “facts and circumstances.” Moreover, I have since listened to the audio tapes of Mrs. Looney’s statement and other witnesses. It is clear that we suspended a woman (McCoy) and nearly destroyed her career, for, at worst, touching another woman on the back and saying “excuse me.” I will happily sit with any of you and let you listen to the statements. They are illuminating. I would also like to know why we have not investigated Ms. McCoy’s accusations about Ms. Looney concerning allegations of false statements about testing, lying to parents, etc.

This was a long simmering feud, in which the principal failed to address months of bad blood between two employees, both accusing the other of harassment and mistreatment. But when Mrs. Looney complained of “hostile work environment,” she was believed immediately.

And yet, at almost precisely the same moment, when her husband was accused yet again of creating a hostile work environment, our organization believed him and circled the wagons around him. Why? What is going on with the Looney family? Is it the relationship with Kay Fields?

Why have they always, in repeated incidents, as both alleged victim and alleged perpetrator, received protection from this organization every single time? Why has everyone on the opposite side of an investigation from them suffered?

I will be addressing these questions publicly at the next board meeting, along with Jason Looney’s apparent re-appointment, despite that fact that two more APs have been transferred, including, of course, Summer Fisher.

I will be publicly making my call for outside review of the entire decade-long Looney family saga. My earlier good faith private request to Jackie and Wes appears to have gone nowhere.

I am going to make all of this as public as I can make it so that it becomes part of the election campaign. I think that’s the only way we can begin to fix this culture. I don’t know what else to do. Working through staff leadership has been absolutely useless.

To John Hill: I have included you on this email and the previous because I believe you are sincere in your desire to see a district leadership worthy of its people, all the time. Unlike just everybody else on this email, this scandal doesn’t touch you. We have a ways to go. Maybe you can help bring some change.”

At essentially the same moment, I send this email about K12 and John Small’s role.

“I have said many times in many ways in public meetings and one-on-one conversations that I want to be made aware of personal relationships with major contractors.

So it troubles me that John Small is a vice president and Jacque Bowen apparently affiliated with K12 and that these relationships have never been openly discussed at the board level.

I will discuss them at the next meeting.

I’m now trying to go back and figure out what exactly I’ve voted for on this. I asked Susan to inquire about this earlier today. But it’s probably easier for everybody to do it myself. Please respond to me, rather than her.

Please provide me a detailed account of our contracting history with K-12, what precisely we use K-12 for, and how much we are spending on them. Please confirm if it is true that we recently purchased more than 5,000 K12 licenses and that fewer than 200 are being used.

I want to know if I have voted for a K12 deal that John Small helped negotiate without my knowing it. I honestly don’t know. But I will find out. And if I missed something I should have caught, I will take responsibility for it with the public.

The Polk School District is not a piggybank for people who used to work here — or people who have relationships with our leadership. I made that clear when I discussed Acceleration Academy and the SIS system with several of you.

We have a history of relationships blowing up in the taxpayers faces and our faces.”

I see the leadership issues on display in these two incident as deeply related — and the Polk County District’s most pressing local problem — by far.

Again, in fairness to John Small, he has never hidden that he works for K12.

But no one, at this point in the timeline, has ever told me what, exactly, is the nature of his and K12’s ongoing relationship with the Polk District. That’s the question I’m trying to answer. And that’s why I included him on both emails. I’ve always, personally, had a pleasant relationship with Small. But that really doesn’t matter for any of this. It’s the District’s job to police and communicate our relationships with vendors — and make sure they serve our community’s interests.

May 25, 2018

The next day, I ask for Marc Hutek to call me because various sources told me that he objected to whatever the K12 deal was and suffered for it. To my surprise, he calls me back.

I also had been told that his objection to the deal may have played a role in him not getting the permanent deputy superintendent job. I wanted to know if that was true. As you can imagine, that’s a sensitive conversation, and I wanted to protect Hutek from any fallout for speaking with me. So I only referred obliquely to this discussion, with no names attached, in trying to explain K12 background to the public.

Later, the District indicated that Hutek’s discussion with me reflected some sort of official response to my email to leadership. With that in mind, I feel it’s appropriate to recount the content that we discussed on the call.

For the record, Hutek told me he did not think he lost the permanent deputy superintendent job because of the K12 issue. The rest of what he told me was confusing and inconclusive. I came away certain that there had been some kind of K12 deal proposed; but I was distinctly unclear as to whether it happened. And why or why not.

I had hoped Harrison School of the Arts Principal Daryl Ward would get the deputy superintendent job. I told Jackie Byrd in a very brief conversation some weeks ago that I thought Ward’s skill set would help her in managing relationships within the organization and the community. I also made it clear that it was, obviously, her call to make.

Jackie chose Hill, which is a perfectly reasonable decision. I support Jackie’s choice and John Hill and wish him well. I think he shares some of the skill sets I like in Daryl Ward. Hill created an excellent community climate at AHS.

But I don’t want anyone punished for standing up and trying to do the right thing, if that is, in fact, what Marc Hutek did, of which I remain unsure.

—————————————-

To settle Sherry Ross’ grievance against Looney, the District officially “rescinds” the letter/email Looney sent attacking her. Ross has still never been interviewed in connection with any Looney investigation.

May 26, 2018

I publicly write about the Laquita Looney/Juanita McCoy incident and dismissed charges.

May 27, 2018

I call publicly for an outside investigation of the District’s institutional behavior and deference to the Looneys.

May 31, 2018

Exactly a year after the Laquita Looney/Juanita McCoy confrontation, Jackie Byrd agrees to an outside review of the Jason Looney investigations. But that’s not what I’ve asked. I leave a phone message for her asking to wait until the next board meeting so that we can get a consensus from the  board on the scope of the review.

June 1, 2018

After waiting a week for the District to provide any written acknowledgement of my K12 requests, much less any documentation of our relationship with K12, I publish an article titled: “John Small, K12, the Looneys, and staff’s contempt for your elected School Board”

It tells what I know and don’t know about K12. In writing this article, I make public the internal email I sent to leadership a week before.

Later that day, about 4:30 p.m., Hutek sends a fairly detailed email to Byrd describing the “portal” and providing an explanation, supported by content from Polk Virtual School. I only have the email in PDF and it’s fairly long. I can’t screenshot it effectively.

But it doesn’t say anything different than what’s already been said here. I don’t know why it took another week to share that basic information with me.

June 7, 2018

After another week passes, Superintendent Byrd finally sends a formal response by email to my questions about K12.

Mr. Townsend,

It has come to my attention that posts appearing on your website as of last Friday (June 1st) contain serious and false allegations implying that the Administration has acted inappropriately with K-12, one of three State /School Board approved vendors providing online educational services for Polk Virtual School.  I am writing this letter to provide you with accurate, factual information regarding this issue and to request your retraction of the inaccurate allegations you’ve made.  While I understand that your sources are employees of the Polk County School system, that does not mean it is factual information.  

Florida law requires that the School Board give students and parents a choice of at least three vendors who can provide online educational services through the Polk Virtual School.  It is the parents and students who decide which vendor they wish to utilize, and each vendor is paid by the School Board based on the number of students utilizing that vendor.  The School Board has no role in suggesting, promoting, favoring or otherwise designating any particular vendor over the other two vendors. 

K-12 has been a vendor for the Polk Virtual School since 2009 when Dr. Gail McKinzie was the Superintendent.  The agreement with K-12 provides that they will be paid a specified fee for each student who selects the K-12 program for that student’s online education services.  The agreement with K-12 provides no fixed amount or minimum number of students for which it will be paid.  That agreement has been approved by the School Board each year since 2009, and I can provide you with copies of those agenda items.  The current one-year contract will expire this July, and after that date I expect it to again come before the School Board for renewal, together with agreements by other vendors.  K-12 has received no favored treatment over any of the other vendors providing these online education services. 

A possible source of the confusion regarding this issue is a “Sales Quote”, valid for 30 days, of $1.8 million for 550 blocks of 10 enrolled users that Marc Hutek signed on May 26, 2017.  A copy of that quote is attached with this letter.  In all honesty, I do not know just what Mr. Hutek understood this document to involve since he clearly lacked the authority to bind the School Board.  In any event, it was never acted upon and nothing went before the School Board based upon this “Sales Quote”. 

Dr. Hutek brought this to my attention several months after he signed it; I immediately asked that the matter be reviewed.  As the result of my request, a meeting was held last fall with representatives of K-12, including Don Kidd, Vice President, John Small, Dr. Hutek and myself.  Attached to this letter is Dr. Hutek’s memorandum confirming this meeting and the action taken.

As previously explained, K-12 has not been treated more favorably than the other vendors who provide these online educational services.  Parents and students are free to choose the vendor they wish to use, and all three vendors are paid solely based on the selections made by the parents and students. 

The statements on your website strongly suggest that K-12 has received some sort of favorable treatment because of their relationship with John Small, who is well-known to members of the Administration after his years of service to the School Board.  This assertion is totally incorrect. I consider your suggestion of inappropriate actions by me as Superintendent and/or by members of the Administration to be inappropriate and counter-productive to our efforts to provide quality education to the students in our schools. 

I regret that your requests or inquiries cannot be answered immediately, especially during the hectic, final days of the school year.  For the sake of our schools and the thousands of people participating in and impacted by our schools, I would respectfully request your restraint in publishing inaccurate and suggestive ideas that deeply impinge on the goodwill that we each should share and promote.  

I reply that night to Byrd, Small, Bridges, and Hutek with a question.

I appreciate the documentation you’ve sent. Quick question about the fall meeting: could any of you please tell me who John Small’s employer was at the time of the meeting referenced in Dr. Hutek’s March email involving K12 and district personnel?
Also, could one of you provide me the date of that meeting? At your earliest convenience is fine.
Thanks. Have a good evening.

Only Hutek has answered that email.

And I have not received a request to retract any specific sentence, phrase, or word. So I have not retracted anything I’ve written. I do continue to edit these timelines as information is updated.

June 9, 2018

Hutek responds. He is the only recipient of the email to respond thus far.

I was unable to identify the exact date for the meeting that occurred.  I have narrowed the timeline to sometime between the last week of October to the first 2 weeks of November of 2017.  Also, I am not aware of when John Small went to work for K12.  

He later confirms that Small was representing K12 in the meeting.

June 12, 2018

Hutek states in an email, while responding to additional questions, that John Small directed him to sign the K12/Fuel Education “Sales Quote” in May. He also provides some background detail on the K12 portal press release and testimonial.

Here is the full email exchange.

Polk County does not appear to be using this Polk Virtual School portal — which is quite nice.

Yet K12/FuelEd says that we asked them to build it. And the Polk District gave a testimonial for K12 marketing material saying how well it works for our kids. That does not make much sense to me.

My current understanding of the situation is this: The Polk County District gave a marketing testimonial for a private business that hired and currently employs John Small, who was Polk’s deputy superintendent as recently as September 2017.  It is my understanding from District statements that the Polk District gave this testimonial about a product that we did not buy and that we are not using. Nevertheless, we talked about how well it has worked for our kids. The date of the marketing material is 5/14/2018.

Is my understanding incorrect?

The student self-enrollment portal is up and running and yes we are using it.  Course enrollments are still low due to it coming online following the beginning of second semester and not having NCAA approval for the courses.

A few other questions:

Was this portal in use at some point? If so, why have we changed portals?

It came online in January and has been in use.  Students may use it even during the summer.  Other than FLVS, we do not have another portal. 

Who authorized/instructed Marc Hutek to give a testimonial about this portal? When did he give that quote?

K12 stated they would be writing a press release regarding the portal approximately one month following its release this past January.   After approximately two months and multiple conversations regarding me providing a statement, I reluctantly complied with their request. 

Who authorized/directed Marc Hutek to sign the Sales Quote on 5/26/2017? Or did he sign it completely on his own initiative?

John Small directed me to sign the quote and stated since it was not superintendent/Board approved, it was not considered a contract only a quote.

June 13, 2018

I write an article about the sexual harassment training and lawyer Tom Gonzalez. See link and updates here.  

I send Gonzalez a link to the original piece. Late in the day he called me. I found him belligerent. But that might just have been my impression.

Here’s an important excerpt.

…Gonzalez told me a pretty important piece of news: Polk District HR has asked him to review the Jason Looney investigations. It’s a little unclear what that means and if there’s any documentation of the services anywhere. District staff certainly isn’t communicating with me about any of this. So I welcome Gonzalez’s information; but I don’t think the scope of what he’s been asked to do is adequate to fulfill what I’m asking. He seemed to agree, but it was a combative kind of agreement.

He and I talked over each other quite a bit; and I think he was quite impatient with me trying to explain the limitations of the scope of the review I think he’s been asked to perform. All in all, it was a weird chat and kind of inconclusive, which is fine, because I will be asking the board to clarify the scope of a review at our next meeting.

I did provide Gonzalez with the timeline I’ve created and asked him to read it, which he agreed to do, I think. But he also seemed to think that it wouldn’t really be relevant to his review. I don’t know for certain, though; it was kind of a circular conversation.

As regards the “training” on July 11, 2017, Gonzalez told me that it was, in fact, a routine, pre-scheduled training. But we had difficulty establishing when it had been scheduled. I think he’s planning to send me emails about the scheduling. I hope so.  I mentioned to Gonzalez that the District had not created a consultative service agreement until months after the training — and that he did not sign it until November of 2017.

Gonzalez said the training took place in an outbuilding of the District Headquarters in Bartow. He said he couldn’t remember exactly who was there. He said he assumed it was all the senior staff plus at least some principals.

He said he “was not there to give legal advice.” And he said no specific names came up. I pushed him on this. And he said neither district staff nor him used names in conjunction with the content discussed.

I am still waiting for district staff to answer these questions from our side. If this was a routine sexual harassment training, surely we taped the session for reuse? Or at least documented in people’s files who attended?

Finally, Gonzalez seemed to think I had accused him of trying to cover something up in the article that follows. He used “cover up” in a sentence expressing displeasure with me. He denied he has ever covered anything up. And that’s fine because I never remotely accused him of covering anything up.

Let me be clear. My questions about this training were all for School District personnel. [If you were there, please call me at 863-209-4037.] Whatever Gonzalez did, and he’s clear that he considers this a standard sexual harassment training and nothing more, I always assumed he was acting in good faith in accordance with the requests of district staff as clients.

There’s no need for him to be defensive. I may not think he’s the right figure for this review. And I know he hasn’t been given the scope I asked for privately and publicly multiple times. But I’m not accusing him of doing anything wrong. He’s just doing his job as near as I can tell.

Should he like to add anything to this, I’m happy to publish it.

June 14, 2018

The next day, I receive information suggesting that the training in question occurred on June 22, not July 11. Emails from District staff support that conclusion. But I’m still not completely sure, either way.

I subsequently ask for clarification in time for the June 19 meeting.

June 18, 2018

I ask for a State Attorney review of the K12 matter.

 

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