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At Broward school board meeting, mental health and safety continue to be top concerns

 Broward County Schools interim superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright speaks to the media following a meeting of the Broward County School Board Oct. 26, 2021. The board voted to keep the current mask mandate in place for elementary and middle school students but to relax the policy for high school students starting Monday. 

Superintendent Vickie Cartwright says she's looking into providing training for teachers so they can be better equipped to deescalate situations with threats or violence.

The school board will be asking voters to once again pay more in taxes to fund what they say are critical services, mental health support and school security staff.

Public safety and mental health continue to be top concerns in Broward County Public Schools — and in districts across the state. These were just some of the top issues that came up during a Broward school board meeting Tuesday.

WLRN’s education reporter Kate Payne shared some of the highlights from the meeting:

This excerpt has been edited lightly for clarity.

WLRN: The school board decided to officially move forward with a plan to raise local property taxes to help pay for school security and mental health providers. What's the latest on that?

PAYNE: Broward County schools will be asking voters to once again pay more in taxes to fund what they say are really critical services, mental health support and school security staff. And this is something that would go on the ballot for voters to weigh in on this August. And it's basically a renewal of a tax referendum from 2018 that was approved after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and this funded a major investment more than 500 school security staffers, dozens of mental health staffers, school counselors, psychologists, family therapists. And this money also went toward pay increases for teachers as well, and board members say all of that is on the line if this referendum isn't approved by voters.

There's been intense scrutiny of the past referendum to fund construction projects in Broward County schools. There have been years of delays and cost overruns from that. Why should voters trust the district with another tax increase?

Board members addressed that. This has been an ongoing issue for them, of these questions around why has it been so difficult for them to execute on that 2014 bond referendum? So many schools still waiting on new air conditioning, new roofs, things like that. And the board basically pivoted to the 2018 referendum, saying that they promised that that money was going to go to these things of mental health support and school security. And they said that they followed through on that and the district is being audited right now to review how that money was spent from 2018. And the chief financial officer said that audit will confirm that they did what they said they would do, and that the public should feel confident in that.

The board also heard some pretty passionate testimony from the Broward Teachers Union, on the threats that teachers are facing right now from students. What did they have to say about that?

Anna Fusco of the Broward Teachers Union was bringing a lot to the meeting of accounts of threats against teachers and even physical violence. She's hearing from staff who say they've been punched and kicked, some who have required medical attention and treatment. Fusco said she is spending more time with people who are getting hurt on the job than at any other point in her career. And Fusco is also alleging that administrators in the district aren't properly addressing these instances and aren't following through on protocols to respond. It's a very difficult time. So many students are struggling a lot after the pandemic. How much they've been through, the trauma that they've experienced at home, and some of that is showing up in schools.

What did district officials say? How do they respond to this?

Well, Superintendent Vickie Cartwright acknowledged what Fusco said, saying these are issues that are being seen not just in Broward schools but across the country. And Cartwright said she's looking into this and mentioned she's looking into providing deescalation training for teachers and general education settings and special ed settings for them to be better equipped to deescalate situations so that they don't get physical or violent. And Cartwright said she's taking this seriously. She's working on it and said the board will hear more from her soon on this.

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.
During her time at Florida International University, where she recently graduated from with a Bachelors in Journalism, Sherrilyn Cabrera interned for the South Florida News Service - a digital journalism platform where stories are written, shot and edited by FIU students. As part of her senior project, she reported on the influx of Puerto Ricans who migrated to Florida after Hurricane Maria, and the impact it could have had on the November 2018 midterm elections.
I was introduced to radio my sophomore year of college, after a classmate invited me to audition for a DJ job at the campus' new radio station, WFCF. I showed up, read a couple of cue cards, and got the job. The following semester I changed his major and radio has been a part of my life ever since.