Friday, December 15, 2017
Education

Band director reprimanded for mobilizing Parrott Middle School band support

BROOKSVILLE — It was an emotional subject for band director Joe Harrin.

Faced with the prospect that Parrott Middle School's band would be eliminated for the coming school year, Harrin helped mobilize a group of supporters to speak during a Hernando County School Board meeting in May. For more than an hour, dozens of people advocated for band, music and the devastating effects that losing the band at Parrott could have on Hernando High School's Royale Regiment band, which receives most of its students from Parrott.

But Harrin's efforts have landed him in some hot water with Hernando High principal Leechele Booker.

After the May 6 board meeting, Booker gave Harrin, who served as the band director for both Hernando High and Parrott this past school year, a "letter of direction," reprimanding him for his actions.

"This letter of direction is being given to you for assembling a group of students and parents from (Hernando) to attend a school board meeting with the sole purpose of voicing a complaint about the assumed demise of the band program at (Parrott)," she wrote in a May 9 letter.

In her letter, Booker wrote that Harrin failed to follow proper procedures for lodging a complaint.

"Please keep in mind that you have an obligation to make reasonable precautions to distinguish between your personal views and views that negatively represent (Hernando High)," she said.

She said she was concerned that although most of the problems he mentioned related to Parrott, the majority of parents appeared to be from Hernando High.

Booker said Harrin also didn't provide parents with all available information, failing to mention that he could, in fact, continue to serve at both schools and that low band enrollment at Parrott precludes the school from needing a full-time instructor.

"Yet, you failed to share that with your parents and encouraged them to voice their concerns based on misinformation," she wrote.

In the future, she said, concerns of this type should be shared with school administrators first.

In a rebuttal letter, Harrin adamantly disagreed with the assessment and said Booker made inaccurate statements in her letter.

He said the purpose of the gathering was not to voice a complaint, but to request that the School Board reconsider Parrott's start and end times for the coming year.

"At no time was a formal complaint lodged against any individual by any speaker during the citizens input time," he said. "Any reference to the comments as a complaint would be a matter of opinion rather than fact."

He said he never wanted to split his time between the two schools but had agreed to work at both schools to give the Hernando County School District a chance to hire a high-quality director to take over Parrott's program.

He said the time changes in the school day at Parrott would make it impossible for him to work there without his family being affected. He said it would also damage both programs because of overlapping responsibilities.

He said band enrollment at Parrott has declined for many reasons, not simply because of a lack of interest. Many students would like to participate in band but can't because they are required to take remedial classes, he said.

"The accusation that I failed to inform parents of this and to describe it as 'misinformation' is personally offensive and wrong," Harrin wrote.

He also wrote that parents were not led to believe anything other than what was "abundantly clear to anyone involved with the Parrott band."

"The band has been shrinking over the past years, and I was told that if I did not work at both schools, then there would be no band at Parrott," he said. "This is not an 'assumed demise.' "

He has requested that the letter be removed from his file.

Tampa employment and labor attorney Cynthia Sass said a public employee who complains about something of public concern generally has a First Amendment right to do so and not be disciplined. She stressed that the issue would need to be of a public concern, not a private or personal concern.

She also said a person's identity as an employee of the district should not affect the employee's ability to voice concerns, so long as the person does not speak within the scope of his or her official duties.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Follow @HernandoTimes on Twitter.

Comments
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Caitlin Gille grew up in a union household in Wisconsin, where her mom was a long-time teacher in the small city of Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee.She was accustomed to seeing educators advocating for their working conditions and pay, having a sea...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

SPRING HILL — As she perused the book, something about Night of the Living Worms piqued sixth-grader Inessia Richardson’s interest. So she decided to take it home from the Fox Chapel Middle School library.The opportunity to look at Night of the Livin...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/14/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17