West Palm Beach, Fla. – Palm Beach County school superintendent Dr. Donald E. Fennoy II is in a precarious situation. Barely hanging on to his job after many say he flubbed the reopening of the county’s schools during the COVID19 pandemic, Fennoy asked for patience Monday as students went back to brick and mortar classrooms in the county.
[SEE SENATOR BOBBY POWELL OPINION, 4A]
But many have run out of patience with the FAMU graduate and ﬁrst black superintendent in the school district. Last week, he clung to his job after the Classroom Teachers Association (CTA) called for his ﬁring. The union representing teachers said he has a pattern of failed leadership, deception and lies
when it comes to the district’s reopening plan. CTA president Justin Katz said they have “zero conﬁdence” in him. At issue is whether older teachers and those with underlying medical conditions could work from home. There was never a deﬁnitive answer on the issue and on Monday-the ﬁrst day or school, some 900 teachers didn’t show up.
But despite the confusion and admitted missteps along the way, Fennoy got a boost from powerhouse Florida State Senator Bobby Powell, who spoke on behalf of the beleaguered superintendent at last week’s school board meeting. Powell spoke against his ﬁring, citing it would anger and upset many. Powell says Fennoy deserves the chance to get things right.
But the two black school board members, while citing he should not be ﬁred, did say Fennoy needs to exhibit leadership. Debra Robinson, M.D., who’s been on the Board for over 20 years and often as the lone African American, took to social media in a post that was partly anguish, partly sad, and sometimes reprimanding those in leadership. Robinson was passionate, starting her post stating she was heartsick and that the reopening plan was “wrong.” She goes on to say, “…our plan calls for teachers to teach in person and remotely at the same time. Now who (loses) in that situation? The kids on the computer. And who are they? We will see. My bet is they represent the communities that see their neighbors dying of COVID.”
The other African American school board member, Marcia Andrews, who spoke out on the impact of COVID-19 in a recent South Florida Times article, expressed her concerns about the Fennoy controversy in a more recent interview. “We’re in a pandemic. We would not want to ﬁre a superintendent. But all of us must lead the way now, and especially the superintendent. We all must own up to things so that we all can do better. We must stop all this hemorrhaging. We’ve been a little slow, and I’ve been honest with the superintendent. We’ve been in a bad place over the last few weeks. It’s going to require his leadership,” she expressed.
But if things couldn’t get worse, Palm Beach County teachers ﬁled a class action lawsuit last Friday alleging schools are not safe to reenter. Attorney Barry Silver says the Coronavirus is a raging pandemic and cases will rise if safeguards are not in place. Hundreds of teachers say they will stay at home during the litigation. A hearing was set for September 23. Fennoy says the district has done everything possible to make schools safe for students and staff.
Meanwhile Robinson, in her post, says, “…..if we ﬁgure out how to match the teachers that want to teach remotely to the students that want to learn remotely, we can keep everyone as safe as possible. “ But for now, parents aren’t buying into the schools’ safety. Approximately 107,000 students were not in school Monday, rather, opting to learn from home.