Harmony mother still working to exonerate son
By Ken Jackson
The mother of a Harmony Community School student suspended one day from school for simulating a gun with his fingers while playing on the playground said she hoped that better communication between school administrators and parents would come from the ordeal.
Bonnie Bennett attended last week’s Osceola County School Board meeting to provide it with an update on the progress made in speaking with school administrators and the district regarding her third-grade son, Jordan, who was sent home for a day during the last week of September.
She said that the Harmony school had re-labeled the incident as an “inappropriate or obscene act” rather than a violent act. That “violent” labeling was the initial basis of her argument, which she took to school officials before seeking help from district 5 Board Member Tom Long and Deputy Superintendent Tom Phelps.
Bennett said she was still working to completely expunge Jordan’s record.
“The due process I feel was not afforded him. The school punished him prematurely, excessively and without just reasons,” she said. “In totality, it was the violent act that he was accused of and that he was labeled.”
She said teachers and school administrators are trusted to act within reason.
“My child was playing a game and was not acting violent. This punishment was the result of an overzealous administration in my opinion,” Bennett said. “I hope in the future we will allow our children to be kids, and allow them to play, to have them to have an imagination. They are children, they are innocent and should be made to grow up too fast.”
Orlando attorney Mark NeJame also appeared on behalf of the Bennett family at the Oct. 15 meeting, and said he was happy the situation could be worked out at the professional, rather than legal, level.
“I am so impressed with those who have supported this situation to save money that didn’t need to be spent, because this district listened,” he said. “We don’t see that a lot. This was dealt with and the child was told why his actions were inappropriate.”
Long said a coordinated effort between the school and the district had a hand in defusing a situation that got needlessly out of hand.
“I believe this ordeal was blown out of proportion. Before any of us on this board knew what was going on, our Deputy Superintendent (Phelps) was on it, trying to solve and settle this,” Long said. “Kudos to the school and the administration.”
The consensus among the board was that a breakdown in communication likely occurred, even though district procedures were followed. Bonnie Bennett said she did not receive a call from the school until the punishment was metered out and Jordan was on the school bus on his way home on the day in question.
That did not sit well with School Board Chairman Jay Wheeler.
“It’s about parental communication; can we make the effort and at least leave a message with them, and use better judgment,” he said. “There’s obviously an area to improve. I don’t want to do this again.
“I didn’t agree with what happened and how it happened, but I will take responsibility as Chairman of the School Board. Hopefully we learn from this and it doesn’t happen again.”
A review of district policy at the meeting came out of the discussion of the incident. Phelps said the district doesn’t have a policy, and doesn’t know of a district with one, about notifying parents in any incident other than suspension.
“I really believe all of our teachers and administrators do a good job of communicating with parents,” he said. “As someone who once served as a dean and a school administrator, I’ve been the person who’s had the responsibility of making that call home to a parent.”
Board attorney Larry Brown said the district does notify parents if police are coming on campus to interview students about a crime, but that is as far as policy goes.