Don’t know much about public records

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It’s not often that we take to this page to defend how a story becomes a story, but recent events require some clarification regarding last week’s story involving a candidate for Clay County School Board.

And, in this age of internet trolls who hide behind fake Facebook accounts, bullying has taken to it all to an entirely new level.

Here’s how the story began.

After Latanya Peterson was quoted in two different Clay Today stories, one of our reporters did a Google search that showed Peterson had been written about on FloridaPolitics.com about leaving a position with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, so we decided to dig deeper at that time. What we found was a red flag was waving on the horizon. Who is this person and why all of a sudden is she showing up at Clay County School Board meetings?

As early as July 2017, after receiving a press release about her 2018 run for Clay School Board, Clay Today set out to procure the Public Records in Latanya Peterson’s personnel file from the Duval County Public Schools. We made an official request, traveled to downtown Jacksonville and reviewed the file to determine which records to print and purchase. The findings were rather eye-opening.

Her file also included information about an aborted teaching job during the 2006-07 school year in Nassau County Public Schools, something not visible on Peterson’s campaign materials. Good, dedicated teachers simply do not up and quit 69 days into the school year and leave their students in a lurch, which she did in Nassau County.

In the personnel file, there appeared to be a pattern and when journalists see patterns, it becomes cause for concern. The pattern involved her short-lived tenure at three DCPS schools. She spent one year at Highlands Middle School where she was a reading coach, she spent a full year at Raines High School and two months of the next year in which she resigned under doctor’s orders while expecting a child.

In November 2009, in the middle of the school year, she went back to the classroom at Matthew Gilbert Middle School where she taught reading. At the end of the 2011 school year, she was “surplused” and then got on staff at Oceanway Middle School where she taught language arts for a year until June 30, 2012. In July 2012, she was hired at Sandalwood High School to teach language arts from July 2012 until her termination date of June 30, 2014.

All the while she was teaching in Duval, she taught on a temporary certificate for English Grades 6-12 that was issued by the Florida Department of Education for the dates of July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2009. A current search of her name with the FDOE shows she does not have a current teaching certificate. Her 10-year – not 14-year – teaching career ended on June 30, 2014.

In case the Oxford Dictionary has changed the definition of termination, termination still means to be fired from a job.

While some may view that Peterson “was looking out for her students,” when she told them to all mark “C” or “A,” what she did was plain and simple insubordination. But what she did also sent a larger message to students that says, “the rules do not matter much less apply to me.”

During the investigation, many of the students characterized Peterson as “Cool.”

Ask any parent who knows how to have a conversation with their child about their teacher and chances are, if the student says, “Miss Jones is really cool,” that should raise a red flag. Dad’s next question should be, “Well, tell me what you are learning in Miss Jones’ class?” The chances are likely your student will say something like, “Not much,” or “I’m not sure.”

On July 16, 2018, our reporter Wesley LeBlanc interviewed Peterson regarding the investigation at Sandalwood High. He was clear in his questioning. He even asked her about her students not being up to speed on the material in the Curriculum Guide Assessment and whether that was a reflection of her teaching skills. She defended her skills and said she knew where her students were. A vague answer to a clear question.

Wesley LeBlanc made multiple phone calls and sifted through upwards of 85 pages of documents before he turned in a story he believed in. He came to me as the Managing Editor multiple times assuring me it was not going to be a “hit piece.” A hit piece is when a media outlet publishes one person’s so-called story involving another person and never gives the accused person a chance to respond to the allegations. That’s not journalism – that’s dirty pool.

Peterson’s story would have been a so-called “hit piece” if Wesley had never told her of our having possession of her personnel file or even asking her about the allegations in the file. Again, he was clear and transparent.

Peterson has also taken to Facebook claiming Fake News and stated that a supporter of her opponent wrote the story. That’s easy to say when a candidate simply has nothing to offer the position for which she is running.

She also told Wesley that she was not concerned that much about renewing her teaching certificate because she was preparing to go to work for the Republican National Committee and leave education. In short, Peterson simply wants to be in politics for politics’ sake. For example, she filed paperwork in November 2013 to run for Jacksonville City Council’s At-Large Seat 3, a bid that would prove unsuccessful. In 2015, she would again run for the same seat unsuccessfully. In both campaign runs, her financial records show her donations were primarily loans she had made to her campaign. And in June 2015, she was named to the intergovernmental affairs staff at City Hall by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

The bottom line is Clay County students and teachers do not need a politician for politics’ sake nor someone with questionable respect for authority sitting on the school board.

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