Approximately 200 people turned out for the Florida Union Free School District board’s regular monthly meeting last Thursday, in the wake of the recent, sudden and unexpected resignation of the district’s superintendent.
During the time devoted to public comment, speakers were frequently passionate, sometimes angry – yet nearly always respectful – as they addressed the school board. Officers from the Village of Florida police and Orange County sheriff’s departments were in attendance. In his opening statement, board president Rob Andrade spoke about anonymous threats to Board of Education members and their families on social media.
Several speakers expressed concern about a community challenge to a controversial book in the high school library. The issue was resolved last year, and placed in a portion of the library where a student needs to request it from the librarian.
The other source of heat at the meeting concerned the recent resignation of Superintendent Larry Leaven, who had only been in the position for 15 months.
Many residents voiced concerns about the possible forcing-out of an educator, and the unbudgeted costs of having to search for and hire his replacement, as Leaven is being paid for the remainder of his contract. Leaven was not present at the meeting.
Others accused Leaven of creating a “toxic” environment for long-time staffers.
Some speakers expressed their belief that the dissension is being created by people outside the school district; one group, Moms for Liberty, was referred to as a hate group by one of the speakers.
While the majority of the individuals who spoke were local residents, one person, Diana Patton of Hamburg, N.Y., from a group called Defense of Democracy, came to speak in support of the LGBTQ kids: “My name is Diana Lynn Patton, and I am a Transgender Veteran. I...drove six hours to be here, because a gay superintendent was harassed, ridiculed, and then fired.”
Leaven had earlier spoken to Warwick Advertiser, saying his parting was amicable.
“I served my country for all people, all religions, all beliefs, all differences,” Patton added. “Hate cannot be the legacy we teach the next generation”
Yet another resident contended that Leaven was not forced out due to discrimination, as there were “no videos, emails, texts, or posts,” nor were any lawsuits filed that would suggest that as the cause.
Regardless of their perspective on the issues, most speakers expressed love for their school district and overall support for the administration.
Also on the agenda at the Nov. 17 meeting was an announcement from Orange-Ulster BOCES about its approved Capital Project, various personnel appointments and resignations, motions to authorize bids for bus transportation services and various maintenance services, a motion to approve Golden Hill’s $33,000 sewer contract, and a motion to accept the recommendation of the Committee on Special Education and the Committee on Preschool Special Education.