Report: Polk chief academic officer violated policies, behavior constituted ‘serious misconduct’

Polk County

BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – The president of Polk County’s teachers’ union accused a member of senior school district leadership of trying to intimidate and threaten her amid tensions over teachers attending a rally in Tallahassee last month, a new report shows.

News Channel 8 obtained a 41-page investigative report into allegations against Dr. Michael Akes, Polk County Public Schools’ Chief Academic Officer.

Source: Polk County Public Schools

According to the report, Polk Education Association President Stephanie Yocum received a late-night text from Dr. Akes on Jan. 10.

“Are you up?” he asked. “Call me.”

So she did.

This occurred an hour and a half after Yocum got wind of a letter sent by the Florida Department of Education stating teachers could risk losing their jobs by attending a rally in Tallahassee the following week.

Yocum alleges Dr. Akes repeatedly used profanity in the call. She says he stated several times “you better not be f—-ng recording this.”

She also suspected he had been drinking due to his slurring words and disjointed speech, the report states.

“He repeated that ‘I was in a world of s–t’ and ‘only he could help me’ and added that ‘he was the only one that would be honest,’” Yocum told investigators.

After the phone call ended, records show Dr. Akes sent Yocum a text that said, “You better not say my name. I’m not f—-ng with you.”

After the rally, Yocum brought her concerns to leadership, including school superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

“I feel like the purpose of that interaction was to intimidate me into relying on him to fix a perceived problem that was none of his concern,” Yocum wrote in her investigative statement. “I feel like he was trying to leverage his position and authority as Chief Academic Officer into making me feel small and insignificant, and I will not tolerate his actions.”

Dr. Akes was placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 14. His annual salary is $135,177.

Yocum provided a follow-up statement to reporters, citing a “culture of intimidation in the district.”

News Channel 8 reporter Staci DaSilva asked Yocum if she wanted Dr. Akes terminated.

“That’s Ms. Byrd’s decision,” she replied. “I can’t effectively do my job with him in that position.”

Dr. Akes told 8 On Your Side after speaking to his lawyer, he was unable to comment at this time.

He did, however, speak to investigators.

According to the report, he walked out of his first meeting with them on Jan. 16. He followed up with an email apologizing for leaving abruptly.

“I am completely shocked and distressed by how a ‘call and text’ that I might have made is being turned on me. Any call that I might have made was made for the wellbeing of a person I consider a colleague and friend and the wellbeing of students and teachers.”

Dr. Akes said on the evening of the phone call with Yocum, he had worked until 7 p.m. to try to get classrooms covered for the following Monday when a higher than average number of teachers was expected to be absent.

Dr. Akes told investigators he reached out to Yocum as a colleague and friend and “was concerned that the state and national organizations were about to use her and the teachers as a pawn.”

He didn’t recall using profanity in the phone call.

In his investigative statement, Dr. Akes expressed regret over his choice of words in the text message and the timing of the phone call, since he was tired and had a few drinks.

“I am sorry that I had this communication with Stephanie,” he wrote in his statement. “While hindsight is always 20/20, I do regret the manner in which I communicated with Stephanie. I would like to offer a sincere apology to her when it is appropriate.”

The Office of Employee and Labor Relations found Dr. Akes to have violated several bylaws and policies, including rules governing standards ethical conduct, anti-harassment and threatening behavior toward staff members.

“His action on that evening constitutes serious misconduct, a violation of the standards of ethical conduct for School board employees, a significant lapse in judgment and was not in keeping with the high level of professionalism and ethical decision making expected from a member of the Superintendent’s Senior Executive Staff,” the report found.

Superintendent Byrd has given Dr. Akes until the close of business Friday to file a response to the report.

“She will not be making any decisions or recommending any action until after that time. We will not make any statements until any response has been received and considered,” Rachel Pleasant, Polk County Public Schools senior director of communications, said in a statement.

The investigation also uncovered a romantic relationship between Dr. Akes and a school official.

While not ready to comment on the allegations at the core of the report, school board member Billy Townsend told 8 On Your Side he will again request a policy be written on relationship disclosure within the school district.

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