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New disciplinary policies will greet returning students

When Franklin County schoolkids return to their campuses
Tuesday, they won’t have to be wearing masks, unless they want to, nor will
they have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, if that’s what they and their
family prefers.

However, students at the Franklin County School will have to
pass through a full body scan metal detector.

“We’re not looking for weapons necessarily,” said Superintendent
Steve Lanier. “We’re trying to keep them from bringing in vapes to school. Some
will vape in the bathroom, and we’re trying to prevent that from happening, and
looking for potential weapons. It’s primarily for fourth graders and up.”

In addition, there’s been a change at the top when it comes
to school security. The former head, Rob Wheetley has taken a job as principal of
Tolar, a Kindergarten through eighth grade school, in Liberty County.

Wheetley had been an assistant principal with additional
duties, following the departure of Mann Roberts, to oversee custodians,
facility and transportation, Anthony Croom has replaced him as the security and
safety officer.

The district is saving the $80,000 that Wheetley drew, with
his additional duties beyond security now farmed out to Lee Venable, for
maintenance, Teresa Segree for transportation, and Shelly Ingram, the director
of food service, now also over custodians.

The district recently inked a deal for its two school resource
officers, Allen Ham and Jason Register, with the cost of that deal with the
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office now going up by about $28,000. “The sheriff
was giving us a good deal, we weren’t paying benefits,” said Lanier. “That’s
primarily the reason.”

Also on the disciplinary front will be the instituting a 90-day
alternative school, in which students who present behavioral problems will be
assigned for as long as three months. “We’ve never had that,” said Lanier. “It
starts at 90 days, and you can only make five mistakes, five discrepancies, and
if you make it through without (that) you can return to the main campus. Every
day you’re good your days will drop.

“You have to earn the right to get out of there,” he said. “This
is a punitive school alternative school. We had people who shouldn’t be over
there last year. We’re trying to make it where it’s not fun to go to
alternative school.

“It wasn’t a bad place to go, but we have to make it more
difficult,” Lanier said. “We don’t want to just say ‘sit down and calm down,’ or
send them home. We want to keep them in house.

“Before they would go right back in the classroom, doing the
same thing,” he said.

Lanier said he expects overall enrollments to remain at the
same level as last year, but the district may get a clearer indication at this Friday’s
Back to School Orientation, beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the high school media
center. (See sidebar)

Enrollment at the high school, grades Kindergarten through
12th, should be at the 800 level, Lanier said, with the Apalachicola
Bay Charter School maxxed out at 350.

New at the school this year will be a Navy Jr. ROTC program,
under the direction of retired Lt. Cmdr. Tony Cowart, who remains on active
duty. He’ll also be teaching a building trades course. The program has been
started in conjunction with Wakulla County, who will be sending over some of
their instructors, to help with establishing the program.

Lanier, a retired Navy commander, said he expects these
young cadets, of which 16 have already enrolled, will take part in drills and
competitions, as well as present the colors at different school functions.

“It’s going to be good for our students they’re going to be
learn about leadership,” he said. “We’ve never had this program here, it’s
going to one of the best things.”

In addition, students are encouraged to take advantage of
the welding program, held at a $2 million facility that was begun with great
fanfare at a ribboncutting last year.

One vocational program, the unmanned drone instruction,
remains in place, as does the nursing instruction, but so far the drone training
has not seen success in meeting the Triumph grant’s goal of 250 certifications.
Lanier said that over a three-year period the school has produced seven
certifications, “Our students can’t pass the test,” he said candidly.

“We’re trying to get triumph to give us a two-year extension
and take other certifications in other areas, such as culinary and welding,” he
said, noting that a “claw back” provision in the grant for failure to meet the
required number of certifications could result in having to return the grant
funds, with a 3 to 7 percent added penalty.

“We could up for $5 million,” Lanier said. “We’re trying to
be real honest upfront, not hiding anything, so there’s no surprises down the
road. We’re trying to do the right thing,

“We’re going to get it right, we’re going to fix it,” he

Lanier said the district’s head of human resources Karen
Peddie, has been busy making sure the district has a fully-staffed faculty. “A
lot of teachers backed out and she managed to fill positions. She’s been doing
fantastic,” he said. “It was eight (at this point) a year ago, and we’re now
down to three.”

Complicating her task will be the loss this week of music
instructor Shawn Bentz, who has decided to take a job in Indiana. In addition,
the district is in search of a middle school math and physical education

On the issue of COVID-19, which has been spiking in the
county, Lanier said he expects it will impact some teachers and students.
Eliminated this year is the 10 days of COVID leave, as per the Florida
Department of Education. Teachers can continue to use their vacation or sick

“Masks are optional, we cannot force anybody to wear a mask,”
he said. “Taking the vaccination is highly encouraged but not mandatory.”

Lanier said vaccinations will not be administered by the school,
but rapid COVID testing can be done on site, in the offices staffed by the
county health department, with parental permission.

He said tests can be administered as well to any family
member of school faculty or staff.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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