MaryAnn Parks received a standing ovation but critics expect more of the same

TAMPA, Fla. - Hillsborough County Board Members unanimously voted in a new ESE director on the same day they chose to suspend yet another ESE teacher without pay.

The district accuses Ingrid Peavy, an ESE teacher at Pierce Middle School, of negligence after a parent complained in late October 2012 that her son wandered from class and walked six miles home without anyone noticing he left.

However, her colleague, Aron Zions, told board members Tuesday afternoon that he'd tried alerting administration that the student posed a flight risk for months prior.

"It's my responsibility, 60 days in, to still be calling when they're breaking protocol up front? That's not appropriate. I can't do my job that way, neither can Ms. Peavy," explained Aron Zions. "We're all with culpability here, but you're dropping it on the wrong person."

Almost immediately after Zions' plea for his colleague's job, the school board voted to hire MaryAnn Parks as the new director of special education.

She received a standing ovation.

"I've never been afraid of change.  Our department's never been afraid of change," Parks said.

Her critics, though, claim the only change will be the name before the title.

They question her 34 years with the district, the last 7 as Improvement and Accountability Supervisor. Yet, two  students wandered, one of whom drowned, and another choked to death in her wheelchair.

"She was part of the management team that was overseeing ESE during all this turmoil, so why weren't there any changes implemented then?" said ESE student advocate Jose Colindres.

Parks denies chronic problems, but admits there's work to do with transparency and connecting parents and educators, beginning at schools like Pierce Middle.

"We have to work hard everyday to do the best for them. I don't believe it's systemic but I always think we can do better," she said.

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