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Polk superintendent responds to criticism, says she never threatened teachers over Tallahassee rally

Polk County School District Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd
Posted at 11:34 PM, Jan 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-13 07:53:19-05

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Polk School District Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says the email from the Florida Department of Education is being misconstrued. She says the district had an obligation to send that email out informing teachers of the law and that it was not meant as a threat. She also says she does not plan to retaliate against any teachers.

“I did not threaten any of my staff, nor would I threaten any of my staff,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd at a press conference held at a Polk school Sunday evening.

Superintendent Byrd said she did not request for the Department of Education to send the email letting teachers know they could be fired, only that she was advised to send it to teachers after she received it.

That, despite the Department of Education telling ABC Action News that the email sent out Friday evening was specific to Polk School District.

Byrd let teachers know at the press conference that she supports them rallying for raises and additional school funding. She said she only wished the school had more time to prepare for a lack of teachers.

“We were prepared for 600, we have been planning since November,” said Byrd, but she also said that number more than doubled after Christmas break. Now she says district staff and Polk County deputies will be stepping in to fill the gaps.

“It will be an exciting school day for my 30 deputies that get to interact in the classrooms they’re assigned,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Sheriff Judd also attended the press conference Sunday. He said the majority of his deputies substituting will be detectives who all have bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Superintendent Byrd and Sheriff Judd both wanted to make sure parents know qualified people are teaching in their child’s classrooms, but also that schools are properly secured.

“We will be extra hypersensitive to making sure the environment is safe tomorrow,” said Sheriff Judd.

Polk school board members and teachers said they appreciated statements made by Byrd in the press conference.

“It was important for people to hear the superintendent say there’s not going to be any retaliation,” said Billy Townsend, Polk County School Board Member for District 1.

With 600 vacancies to fill though, it’s going to be all hands on deck. Superintendent Byrd said she will likely be teaching in a classroom as well.

A petition is now circulating, gathering thousands of signatures in only a day, asking Governor DeSantis to terminate Superintendent Byrd. Byrd did not comment on the petition, only said her focus is on getting through Monday and ensuring the safety of Polk students.

Byrd said she will be meeting with the president of the teachers union to come up with a protocol in case something like this happens in the future.