LAKELAND, Fla. — Joan Martinez was one of the dozens of parents who came to pick their students up early from Kathleen High School.
“He called me and he said 'mom you have to pick me up,'” said Martinez.
Her son called her after several students were arrested during a protest calling for the termination of the school's principal Daraford Jones.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office arrested 15 students. Charges include disruption of school function, resisting officer without violence, false name to law enforcement officer, possession of weapon on campus and affray.
The protest, which began around 6:30 a.m., was "largely peaceful," according to Polk County Public Schools.
It was organized by history teacher and football coach Tomaris Hill. He said Jones has taken away all after-school activities, except for sports, and allegedly locks school doors with students waiting outside.
“The last straw for our students was, I guess they submitted a request for homecoming and he denied their homecoming requests, saying even though it’s a formal event they either had to wear jeans and they couldn't dance,” said Hill.
Hill said some teachers are also fed up but many are afraid to speak out.
“We have to ask permission to leave and go enjoy our lunch. We either have to eat the same school food as the students or bring our lunch from home,” Hill said.
He said Kathleen went downhill once Jones became principal in April.
“Our morale is awful, we have no school spirit,” he added.
ABC Action News reached out to the district for comment from Jones but they declined.
District spokesperson Kyle Kennedy did provide this statement:
“This morning a demonstration took place just outside the entrance of the Kathleen High campus. The demonstration involved students who were voicing concerns and complaints about the school’s administration. PCPS staff and law enforcement responded, and were on scene to ensure the safety of all involved. We are working with all KHS stakeholders to address their concerns. The campus is secure and classes are continuing as normal today. Although this morning’s demonstration was largely peaceful, some students were arrested for causing a disruption that interfered with the school’s ability to operate. Please contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for more information.”