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Harmony mother fighting to clear 3rd grade son’s name

Posted on Friday, October 4, 2013 at 1:53 pm

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
If Bonnie Bennett is going to get reconsideration about the treatment of her son by his Harmony school administrators, it’s likely going to have to come from those who run the school themselves, Osceola County School District officials said at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.
Jordan Bennett, a third-grader at Harmony Community School, was suspended from school for one day recently after displaying what the school called “a violent classification of an act,” his mother said.
While neither side would elaborate on the details of the act that got Jordan suspended — the school district cannot comment due to confidentiality laws — Karen Hicks, another parent who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, said it was during play time on the school playground when the child allegedly held his thumb and index finger up to symbolize a gun while playing a cops-and-robbers type game.
Bonnie Bennett said her son was not given proper due process before being suspended and “labeled as a violent child” after what she thought was a seemingly innocent act.
“I’m asking that the situation be thoroughly investigated,” she said. “My son was judged and labeled without all information. I’m making sure my son is judged and punished appropriately.”
Deputy Superintendent of Operations Tom Phelps told the board and those present that he has had dialogue with Harmony Community school officials.
“I encourage you to do the same,” he told Bennett, noting that if both sides met he also would be present if asked.
School Board Attorney Larry Brown said the school administration was within its rights to suspend the third-grader, and that state law affords no right of judicial review when a student is suspended for less than 10 days.
“The reason you don’t see appeals for suspensions is that there are none,” he said. “It’s a principal’s decision, and that’s the law, but it’s appropriate for a superintendent to investigate. School boards don’t act as appeals courts over principals regarding suspensions. However, the district can correct an error in a student’s school record.”
School Board member Tom Long, whose district 5 includes Harmony, said he had been contacted by a number of concerned parents. He said he was withholding his judgment on the matter until being provided with facts from both sides of the issue.
“This board should not interfere with the decision made by a principal or superintendent unless there is cause,” he said. “It is not our job to protect an individual without knowing all of the facts. I trust Mr. Phelps will look into the situation.”
Board member Barbara Horn said she was confident proper channel and procedures would be followed to resolve the matter.
“Rest assured your son will get a fair shake, and I will be disappointed if that does not happen,” she said.