ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — Some parents of Escambia County Public Schools students are outraged about a question on a Rights and Responsibilities test they say should never have been given to their children, due to inappropriate language.
A group of concerned parents addressed the Escambia County School Board Thursday during their meeting, some called for the removal of superintendent Dr. Timothy Smith.
The question parents are raising concerns about is titled “Selfie Suzie.” It talks about a 17-year-old girl who is asked for nude pictures of herself from her 18-year-old boyfriend. In the scenario, “Suzie” sends the pictures, but is broken up with by “Roger” who sent the nude photos to the entire school. Soon, “Suzie” begins to get bullied and called a “slut.” Eventually “Suzie” commits suicide.
School officials said this specific question was not given to elementary school students, only grades six through 12.
Below is the full question:
Suzie was a 17-year-old girl and a senior in high school. Her boyfriend Roger, was 18. Roger talked her into sending him three nude photos of herself to his cell phone. He promised her that he would send her a few photos also and assured her that he would be the only one to see them. Suzie loved Roger so much and wanted to impress him so she took a few nude selfies and sent them to Roger.
The day before the homecoming dance, Roger broke up with Suzie. Suzie was upset and went to the homecoming dance with a boy on the football team. Roger found out about Suzies date with the football player and began sending the nude photos of Suzie out to boys on the football team, the basketball team, the soccer team, the track team and to other girls he knew.
Now, almost everyone at the school had seen the nude photos of Suzie. They all began harassing Suzie and calling her a slut and other degrading names. They continued the name-calling daily and Suzie would go home crying every day. Suzie, an only child, became miserable and depressed and stopped going to school. Suzie wanted to get her diploma so she enrolled in the community college to get away from the high school students. Suzie was faced with the same harassment at the community college because some of the high school students were also taking classes at community college.
Suzie stopped going to the community college a week after enrolling there. Two weeks later, she was so miserable and depressed that she took her own life.
Melanie Johnson spoke to the school board Thursday afternoon and said her 11-year-old daughter took the test.
“I sent her to school one morning to take a test on rules,” said Johnson. “I was unaware that I could opt out of that test. I would have never guessed that the test would contain such harsh and inappropriate words and scenarios that it did.”
Johnson said her daughter read the question on the screen of her school-provided Chromebook.
“This is a test that the superintendent told me himself that he ‘approved,’” said Johnson. “Once the public got wind of this question, it was very quickly removed, and a lot of parents are having trouble accessing the questions that their child saw on that test.”
Now, Johnson said parents, students, principals and teachers need an apology from the school board.
“We need a response to the children who had to lose their innocence so early due to Dr. Smith’s actions,” said Johnson. “I believe we need an apology to all of the parents who sent their children to school and the ones that were denied the opportunity to parent at our own pace. The words that would get our children in trouble at school were carelessly used by a group of adults that should have known better.”
Sara Peacock is another parent that was up in arms about the Rights and Regulations test.
“When our children make mistakes, they are held accountable,” said Peacock. “So, I am asking what is going to be done and what accountability is going to be taken on behalf of the people that have made that mistake? It is not the school board, the administration or even the school’s job to parent our children. That is my job. I understand that there are children out there without parents and without that parental guidance, but the school’s job is not to provide that guidance. Please stop taking that out of our hands.”
Smith said the test had been long in place at the high school level and then applied in a county-wide situation.
“We restructured our matrix on infractions and rules,” said Smith. “There have been some changes with discipline in general. Our quest for discipline, in general, is to make our schools as safe and orderly as possible.”
When the question got out and Smith started hearing concerns, he said they granted an opportunity for the parents to opt their kids out of the test and then took out the question entirely.
“This concerning information will not return,” said Smith. “It will be corrected, and we will take the necessary steps to fulfill what we need to do as far as the need for parents and students to understand our rules and consequences. We will do that in a way that is not going to repeat this unfortunate situation.”
Escambia County Public Schools Coordinator of Student Engagement Jeremy Tompkins said the test was thoroughly vetted.
“Could we have done better vetting it and bringing it up front? Yes, absolutely,” said Tompkins. “The test itself and the questions left on the test directly represent issues that we do have in the district. Each of you receive board backup that I bring to you monthly and unfortunately, that question specifically, we have had incidents like that that go all the way down to the middle school level. It was never the intent of my office or the office of the superintendent to take the right of a parent away. We were simply trying to inform the students about what could happen. In this, we made a mistake.”
Tompkins said as a parent himself, he values the right of every parent.
“We have heard the parents loud and clear,” said Tompkins. “It was not our intent in anyway, shape, or form to indoctrinate or educate, it was simply to let students know that there are consequences that happen when those types of things happen. I see those consequences on a day-to-day basis. I see parents cry when I have to tell them that their child is going to be removed or because they sent that to somebody, they made be arrested. That’s the reality of the situation. I apologize to this board directly. I apologize to the superintendent, and I apologize to the parents that this happened to. It was not the intent to harm any student. As a parent myself, I value the right of a parent. That is the utmost thing that I value. So, I am sorry, I am humbly asking for your forgiveness, and I can only promise you, in humility, that this will not happen again.”
School board member Bill Slayter said there needs to be a meeting with the principals to see if there is even a need for a Rights and Responsibilities test.
Paul Fetsko, chairman of the school board, said he had no idea there was ever going to be a test. He said he found out about the test when his eight-year-old granddaughter brought up a question about sexual harassment.
“Why would an eight-year-old need to know what sexual harassment is?” said Fetsko. “Now, we have to explain and give some understanding. That was in the test and that went out everywhere. So, if that was reviewed, somebody is in remiss for not catching that. There are things that need to be discussed. The idea of a sixth grader hearing about nude pictures can be very upsetting. So, there could have been a better way of saying there were pictures that were taken that were inappropriate and should not have been taken. There are a hundred different ways of saying it and same goes for the word ‘slut.’”
ECPS sent WKRG News 5 the following statement on the issue:
On Wednesday, August 31, 2022, the parent of an Escambia County Public Schools middle school student called our offices with a concern about the age appropriateness of questions on the Rights and Responsibilities (R&R) Handbook test given to all middle and high school students.
Our Office of Student Engagement was contacted to review this concern. The Coordinator of Student Engagement immediately reviewed the document, and contacted the parent to address the concerns. After review, the passage of concern was removed from the middle school test.
It was determined this test was distributed without being vetted through the proper channels. The issue is being addressed with those responsible for the vetting and approval process, and corrective action will be taken. We regret that any student may have been exposed to content perceived as age inappropriate.
We are in the process of reviewing the R&R Handbook testing process for all grade levels, K-12, and will consider several options related to its future administration, including, but not limited to, parental opt-out, a test review committee, or discontinuing its use altogether. After a thorough review of the situation, we will release a statement detailing the actions we will take to permanently resolve this situation.
ECPS remains focused on creating a safe learning environment for all of our students. We will always value input from parents as we work together in the best interests of our students, our schools, and this community.