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Palm Coast Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 6 months ago

After student's death by suicide, district leaders ask students, community to look out for one another

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Shauntiana Autrice Stafford, 17, died at her home in Madison Green Apartments Jan. 14.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

In a School Board meeting Jan. 15, the day after 17-year-old Flagler Palm Coast High School student Shauntiana Stafford died by suicide, board members and student board members pleaded with community members to be kind to one another and to reach out if they, or someone they know, need help. 

The district has also dispatched psychologists and mental health counselors to the school to aid students struggling after their classmate’s death.

“Empathy is so important today; it’s critically important for students and for everybody in our community, and our community is the schools,” School Board member Colleen Conklin said. “We’re all family, and we have to have empathy for each other. And that means being an up-stander sometimes when being a bystander is a whole lot easier. It means being kind and reaching out sometimes when it’s not so easy to do those things. ... We’ll continue to have the conversations, we need to have the conversations in Flagler County, and we need to make sure that when students leave us as a community, that the community has supports in place to help young people. ... As this was happening with Shaunti, there was a senior citizen that was stopped from committing the act of suicide, and so this is a situation and an issue that impacts everyone, and we all need to pay attention and just be a little kinder to each other. And if you feel like you need services, ask for them, and if services are offered to you, please consider them.”

School Board member Colleen Conklin (Photo by Jonathan Simmons)

Student School Board member Tyler Perry, who represents Flagler Palm Coast High School, said FPC “did lose an angel last night.”

“We’re all family, and we have to have empathy for each other. And that means being an up-stander sometimes when being a bystander is a whole lot easier.”

— COLLEEN CONKLIN, School Board member

“Please, be on the lookout, recognize the warning signs and always be willing to lend a hand to those in need,” he said. 

Zoe Estberg, the student School Board member representing Matanzas High School, also emphasized the importance of empathy.

“This young lady, only 17, will devastatingly mark the third teen suicide in Flagler County within the last 18 months. Occurrences like these are very hard to comprehend, and even harder to explain,” Estberg said. “Her mother has stated that one of the underlying causes of Shaunti’s ongoing depression resides in her numerous experiences with bullying in school. ... Without efforts toward showing and feeling compassion for our neighbors and peers, catastrophes such as suicide will forever be among us. ... Being more aware to unjust behaviors occurring, and becoming that voice for students that may lack the ability and confidence in their own, will be the greatest step in the right direction. I hope that everyone listening and all of my fellow peers pledge to become those heroes to others, and together we can put an end to anyone feeling alone in our community.”

School Board Chairwoman Janet McDonald stated, “The only thing I can say is, at any age, if it’s something that you wouldn’t want to hear talked about you, please don’t say it. Just keep it in your heart. You’re speaking to another soul. So, if we can all remember to just be kind.”

District implements policy changes

Religious expression

The School Board is adopting a state-mandated policy protecting religious expression in schools. The district is adopting the state’s language verbatim, as are other districts around the state, said School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin. 

Among the new rules: A student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in coursework and assignments may not be treated differently than a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint. 

“A student’s homework and classroom assignments shall be evaluated, regardless of their religious content, based on expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements,” the policy states.

Students must also be permitted to wear religious clothing, accessories and jewelry in the same manner that they can wear secular clothing, accessories and jewelry.

Students may pray before, during or after the school day “in the same manner and to the same extent that a student may engage in secular activities or expression,” and may organize prayer groups and religious clubs and gatherings just as they may organize secular ones.

The district will not be permitted under the new policy to prevent its staff members from taking part in student-initiated religious activities on school grounds before or after the school day, as long as doing so does not conflict with the staff member’s responsibilities.

The district will also give religious groups the same access to school facilities as secular groups, and let religious groups announce meetings in the same way and to the same extent as do secular groups. 

The district will also not be permitted to bar students speakers from expressing religious viewpoints at school events, but must, in any event where students address a limited public forum, deliver a disclaimer stating that students’ speech “does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position, or expression of Flagler County School District.”

Medical cannabis

A new school district policy allows students to use medical marijuana at school, but sets limits on where and how. Generally, it states, medications, including marijuana, should be taken at home. When that‘s not possible, it must be administered in accordance with the law, and medical marijuana/low THC cannabis cannot be administered on a school bus or at a school-sponsored event. 

The policy also states that the board may suspend the policy allowing medical marijuana if the federal government requires it to do so. If that happens, the policy states, the district will post a notice on its website.

Online classes

Flagler Schools students are required to take at least one online class for graduation. But a policy change requires that students who opt to take all of their classes online through Florida Virtual School should still have access to the same statewide assessments, national assessments and industry certification exams offered to on-campus students. 

The virtual students must take those exams and assessments at the school the students would have been assigned to, unless an alternative testing site is agreed to by Florida Virtual School and the district.

Bullying 

The school district is adding the following language to its policy on bullying: “The School Board, in its effort to provide a safe learning environment for all students, will not tolerate bullying, threats, or intimidation by any student. Any act of coercion, bullying, or making a person fearful of being harmed or any declaration of intent through words or acts to do bodily harm to another person or to destroy, damage, or steal his/her property will be considered a violation of the Code of Student Conduct and this policy. Students who violate this policy shall be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the provisions of the code of Student Conduct and Florida Statutes.”

Reporting misconduct

District employees are already required to report to the district superintendent any alleged employee misconduct “that affects the health, safety or welfare of a student.” New language being added states, “Instructional personnel and school administrators shall report alleged misconduct of other instructional personnel or school administrators who engage in or solicit sexual, romantic, or lewd conduct with a student.”

The superintendent is required to report staff misconduct to the Florida Department of Education. New language adds that failure to report misconduct “forfeits the Superintendent’s salary for up to one year,” and states that the district must notify the parents of a student affected by an ethical violation, and tell the parent the nature of the misconduct, what actions are being taken against the staff member, and what support the school district will provide to the student. 

Transferring into Flagler Schools

The School district is amending its language on how students first enter the district to specify that incoming students will have 30 days to provide documentation of immunizations. Previously, the policy stated that the records were required, but did not specify a time frame. 

The policy also adds a requirement that incoming students report any prior referrals to mental health services, and adds language stating that the student may then “be placed in an appropriate educational program and referred to mental health services identified by the school district, when appropriate, at the direction of the School Board.” The requirement that students report mental health referrals is an add-on to a policy that already requires students to report previous school expulsions, arrests resulting in a charge and juvenile justice actions.

School security

Additions to the district’s school security policy state that the district shall implement school access procedures including establishing single points of entry, integrating fencing into campus design, providing school resource officers, establishing visitor control, controlling school bus entry and exit, creating safe mail handling procedures and “establishing policies and procedures for the prevention of violence on school grounds; including assessment of and intervention with individuals, whose behavior poses a threat to the safety of the school community.”

 

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