Polk Co. Schools superintendent dispells ‘threats’ over firing of teachers attending rally

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A clear answer from school administrators regarding a letter sent by the Florida Department of Education with what many deemed as a threat.

Bad communication is the reason why tensions were so high the past few days. That’s according to the Polk County Schools superintendent. All this leading up to a rally held at the state capitol for higher teacher pay and support in public classrooms.

“I would never threaten any of my teachers or any of my staff,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

A strong statement coming from the superintendent of Polk County Schools.

“I am a pro-education person. I love all my teachers, all my staff,” Byrd said.

Talking to reporters on Sunday, Byrd hoped to clarify a week riddled with confusion, miscommunication and fears of losing jobs.

“Prior to going to the break, we were prepared. We had been prepared since November for this. It was what happened afterward,” she said.

Originally, Byrd said she was told 600 teachers were taking off for a public education rally in Tallahassee. But when classes resumed from break, she said more than double the number of teachers requested off for Jan. 13, sending administrators scrambling to find suitable substitutes.

Then the Florida Department of Education sent a letter Friday night which was passed on to teachers warning an illegal strike could result in termination. That angered teachers who felt bullied by the state and the administration.

“Will there be any educators that face any retribution yes or no?” asked 8 On Your Side for a third time.

“Not from me. They’re not facing any retribution from me,” answered the superintendent.

“I think it was an important message for our folks to hear. Nobody’s going to be punished,” said Billy Townsend, a member of the Polk County Public Schools board.

With 1,600 teachers expecting to be absent on Monday, Polk County Schools expects to fill those classrooms with 650 substitute teachers, 450 district staff members alongside school staff and 30 Polk County deputies to help teach in classrooms.

“They all have either bachelors or masters degrees, into the schools not just for safety and security, but to interact all day long with the kids. I think that’s great,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

The sheriff said it will be good for students to have a positive interaction with those deputies and joked that it will be a great opportunity for recruitment as well.

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