Education

Student walkout planned for Lincoln Memorial charter school

‘Serious issues’ at Lincoln Memorial to be dealt with aggressively

The Florida Commissioner of Education urged the School District of Manatee to address the 'serious issues' of Lincoln Memorial Academy, including the removal of Eddie Hundley.
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The Florida Commissioner of Education urged the School District of Manatee to address the 'serious issues' of Lincoln Memorial Academy, including the removal of Eddie Hundley.

Supporters of Lincoln Memorial Academy have organized a walkout for students on Friday morning, exactly one month after the school board voted to terminate the school’s contract and take over its operations, but recent security concerns may put a damper on their protests.

Lincoln was told to “shelter in place” before it entered a full lock down on Thursday, district spokesman Mike Barber said. The district received word of concerning social media posts, possibly related to the alleged threats posted by a Palmetto High School student, and concerns were again raised after someone reported a stranger on Lincoln’s campus.

Barber said Lincoln would be under a state of heightened security on Friday, a plan that was set before the walkouts were announced.

Aside from Charlie Kennedy, board members said a takeover was the only logical solution to issues with the school’s finances and leadership, and they took action on July 23. Lincoln supporters have since attended each board meeting to protest the decision, calling it malicious and calculated.

Lincoln supporters, suspicious of the school district, blame leaders in Manatee County for the school’s troubles, not the school’s ousted leadership. Christopher Czaia, a member of Lincoln’s former governing board, announced the walkout in a press release from his office, Czaia Law, on Thursday evening.

District leaders have continually cited Lincoln’s governing board for allowing Eddie Hundley, the former principal, to stay on campus after he was disciplined by the state. The Education Practices Commission revoked Hundley’s educator certificate for five years, citing two job recommendations he gave to a former employee who was under criminal investigation.

The final order said a revoked certificate prevents someone from working “in any capacity requiring direct contact with students.” District and school leaders then argued whether Hundley’s status as the school founder and chief executive officer precluded him from the sanction.

District leaders also said Lincoln had a deficit of several hundred thousand dollars, the symptom of poor accounting and planning. School leaders fired back, accusing Manatee of withholding federal grants.

Both sides will argue their case from Aug. 26 to Aug. 28, just days after the walkout, during a review by the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.

Friday’s walkout is the second protest scheduled since last week, but the previous walkout failed after interim Principal Ronnie King warned students not to participate, according to an audio recording of his comments. It’s unclear who recorded the principal or when the address took place.

He said it was a criminal offense to disrupt school, and that students should find a more productive way to effect change if they were concerned.

“As a choice school, everybody that’s here chose to be here,” he said. “If you choose to be somewhere, you don’t get up and start protesting. If I choose to shop at Publix and they don’t have what I like, I don’t protest, I just go to Sam’s or Winn-Dixie or somewhere else to buy groceries.”

Czaia Law sent another press release on Aug. 17, distributing the audio recording and a news release on King’s statements.

“Mr. King should be held accountable for harassing and intimidating our children,” the release states. “He should not be allowed at the school as he has directly threatened the entire student body of LMA, hindering their right to protest and exercise their First Amendment rights.”

While his comments prompted outcry from some, others shared the same concern about involving students and disrupting their education. An email attributed to Tarnisha Cliatt, president of the Manatee County NAACP, was posted to social media before the planned walkout last week.

“We can’t afford to have any disruption to their daily learning environment,” she wrote. “The data shows these students need every moment possibly allotted for their educational purposes.”

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Giuseppe Sabella, education reporter for the Bradenton Herald, holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He spent time at the Independent Florida Alligator, the Gainesville Sun and the Florida Times-Union. His coverage of education in Manatee County earned him a first place prize in the Florida Society of News Editors’ 2019 Journalism Contest. Giuseppe also spent one year in Charleston, W.Va., earning a first-place award for investigative reporting.
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