Editor’s note: Dems need to support our teachers and School Board members by attending these public meetings and refuting positions made by certain members of the public. We also need to identify and support a centrist candidate to succeed Ian Vincent on the Board. He has decided to not retain this position.
By Nancy J. Semon, Staff Writer, The Daily Sun, May 12, 2022.
PORT CHARLOTTE — A member of the public called for the firing of a teacher who brought a group of students to a Charlotte County Public Schools Board meeting last month.
Debra Fewell, of Port Charlotte, said at Tuesday’s meeting that Deven Seibert “should be fired or at least disciplined.”
Seibert accompanied three students — members of the Murdock Middle School Gay Straight Alliance — to last month’s meeting.
The teens expressed fears the adoption of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill 1557 — which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — would create other laws that would infringe on the rights of LGBTQ students.
The public comment remark was one of several made during the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting, during which a dozen others aired grievances or concerns with how the district is educating students.
The tension spilled over after the meeting when a group of attendees surrounded Board Member Cara Reynolds, prompting her to leave the room in tears.
Nadine Barry, of Punta Gorda, questioned the decision to let the students get up to speak.
“(The Parental Rights Bill) doesn’t have anything to do with gay rights, if their teacher had told them what the bill is,” Barry said.
Seibert spoke to The Daily Sun on Wednesday.
“In 1964 some people did not believe in civil rights,” Seibert said. “You have to be ready to defend your civil rights, and they don’t end with your opinion.”
Seibert said she’s taken other groups of students before the board to talk about topics like the environment and conservation. She said she did not tell the students what to say or think.
Ralph Barry, of Punta Gorda, referred to the Parental Rights Bill.
“Any adult who gets to talk to a child about their genitalia should not be allowed to be near a school,” he said.
He didn’t offer any specifics or examples of a teacher who did that.
Ginnie Dobrek had questions about students having access to certain books at the school.
“I want to make sure there are no transgender books,” she said.
In another moment during the meeting, a member of the public alleged a teacher had hit her child. Connie Patti suggested the school should install cameras in classrooms.
On a different note, Myrna Charry called for the public to step forward to volunteer their time tutoring students new to the English language.
“We have over 1,200 ESL students in the county,” Charry said. “We are concerned about the education of young people and parents new to the country. Children are not being given what they need; we want to work with you.”
Richard Russell, of Port Charlotte, stepped forward to respond.
“I hope they do as much for American kids,” he told the board, referring to teaching the ESL students.
He said if he went with his children to a different country, he would want them to learn the language.
Russell asked whether the immigrant children were applying to become citizens, and questioned whether the children’s families were thinking, “I’m in America — I have this free stuff coming.”
After the meeting, a group surrounded board member Cara Reynolds and bombarded her with questions. She left the room visibly upset.
Reynolds responded to The Daily Sun on Wednesday about the meeting.
“I support the right of all citizens to come to the School Board meeting to voice their opinion during citizen comment and I will not correct or interject my opinion into what the speaker has to say,” she stated. “Specifically, when a child speaks about any topic, I will let them know I am proud of them for having the courage to stand in front of a room of adults to share their opinion. As a former U.S. History teacher, I believe it is important to teach students about civics and government so I will continue to praise students who come to speak before the board as they are actively participating in their local government.”
Board chair Ian Vincent told The Daily Sun on Wednesday that many of the comments are a sign of the times.
“The same people come out raging about something new, whether it’s masks, critical race theory, or textbooks,” he said. “They just want to be outraged.”