Last night, angry parents faced off with school officials at Sunrise Middle School. The meeting was spurred by the case of Paula Johnson, an embattled teacher who was removed from her classroom after allegations of misconduct. A close friend of Johnson's, Wendy Frank, claims the teacher has not been told the nature of the allegations, nor the names of the students who complained about her, and therefore cannot defend herself. Frank has led the charge of parents who are angry about this as well as a host of other matters at the school.
Jane Snyder, a parent who was at last night's meeting, says that Johnson's lawyer, Chris Fertig, confronted school officials amid the crowd of about 200. "[He] stood up and said, 'The allegations -- you all have not disclosed them!' They are expecting her to come defend herself on Wednesday in front of a board and won't tell her what allegations are." Fertig did not return calls to The Juice.
Alyssa Sturman is parent who supports Johnson. Her gripe is about the investigators who came to look into Johnson's alleged wrongdoing. An officer asked permission to interview Sturman's daughter. Sturman granted it. But then, she says, "He threatened her and taped her without my permission and without her permission. She's 12! She was frightened. They were saying, 'If you don't tell the truth, other kids gonna tell the truth. It's your word against theirs.' I looked up the statute -- in the state of Florida it's a felony to record someone without their permission." Sturman says she is talking to a lawyer and may pursue legal action to hear the tapes herself.
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Jane Snyder says that other teachers at Sunrise are scared to talk about the incident or other problems at Sunrise. "They're holding teachers' jobs over head so they can't speak to parents or media. That school board is worse than Nazi Germany! You have more rights if you get arrested!"
Yesterday, however, The Juice did receive a phone call from one dad who declined to give his name but believes the others are on the wrong side of the issue. He said his child is one of several who were verbally insulted by Johnson. "She made fun of a Cuban kid -- she made hand gestures, like he was paddling a raft." The caller claimed that Johnson told another boy, an adoptee of Latino heritage, something along the lines of, "You're an idiot, no wonder you were put up for adoption." Kids who were victims of racial slurs told their parents, who in turn contacted school officials, this father says. He said that kids were called in to give their version of events, and rightfully so. "This idea that kids were coerced is all bullshit," he said.
School Board records indicate that Johnson, a 54-year-old teacher with 18 years working for the district, had no disciplinary records in her personnel file. Her last evaluation was satisfactory.
Calls to two School Board members, an area superintendent, and one school investigator have so far gone unreturned. Superintendent Notter did not answer questions sent by e-mail.