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Superintendent sets record straight about Lee High School leadership class

Supporters of EVAC Movement speak at Duval County School Board meeting

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A high school class shown to help at-risk students is now apparently at risk too.

Supporters of the EVAC Movement gathered Tuesday night at the Duval County School Board meeting to take a stand. 

Amy Donofrio, the Robert E. Lee High School teacher who founded the class, on Thursday posted to Facebook, saying that after two years of growth and achievement, the school wants to change things.

Students and parents involved said don't mess with success. 

"Nobody has the answer on what to do with young black males right now. If we’re all humble and truthful about it, we don’t know what to do," said Jay Harris, who supports the EVAC Movement. "This is a ray of light that we do not need to smother out."

There was a lengthy line of speakers for public comment at the school board meeting, many of whom complained that Lee High School wants to change the way Donofrio leads the group. 

Donofrio wrote in the Facebook post, "There will not be the EVAC Movement class this school year." 

At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, Superintendent Dr. Patricia Willis said it's not true. 

"I want to set the record straight. At no time has the district or the school canceled this class," Willis said. "Principal (Scott) Schneider, who I spoke with again this afternoon, confirmed that Lee High School will be offering the leadership class to both young men and young women and it will include the EVAC Movement in the 2017-18 school year."

According to one report, the school principal asked Donofrio to give up her planning period so she could lead EVAC. The school district said Donofrio wanted an additional planning period in her schedule, which wouldn't be fair to other instructors. 

During public comment, several speakers referred to the impact the program has been making on African-American young men -- with four trips to Washington, D.C., and a meeting with President Barack Obama. 

"So these 15 students who have participated in the class, we can say they are at-hope, not at-risk," said Dr. Angela Mann, who supports the EVAC Movement. "They have mentors. They have clear connectedness to their school."

Supporters pleaded with the school board: Don’t let it end here.

"But more importantly, we talk about the schools to prison pipeline. We have a program that works. We need to make sure that those students who trust the teacher, who not only has a passion for the students, but a passion for the program, why don't we allow her to model it at other schools like Raines, Ribault, Jackson and other schools with higher disciplinary rates?" said L.J. Holloway, who supports the EVAC Movement. 

Schneider issued a statement through the district, saying neither the district nor the school has canceled the class -- instead hoping Donofrio will continue by expanding to include young women.

“We know this class works and we will expand to help even more of our amazing students," Schneider said.

School district communications staff told News4Jax on Tuesday evening that the teacher didn’t respond to the principal’s suggestions for change before posting the message that the class won’t happen this year.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.