Once a star at Indian Pines Elementary, he’s now banned from teaching

Teacher Barry Grace, pictured in 2005, was honored with one of Palm Beach County’s top teaching honors. (Staff photo by Greg Lovett)

For years, Barry Grace was a revered third-grade teacher at Indian Pines Elementary. Kindly, grandfatherly, the “angel-in-charge,” as The Palm Beach Post described him more than a decade ago.

White-haired and balding, Grace embraced the saintly characterization. “Why do you think I don’t have any hair up there?” he once quipped to a reporter. “The halo keeps rubbing it off.” In 2005, he won one of Palm Beach County’s top teaching honors — the prestigious William T. Dwyer Award for Excellence for elementary education.

By summer 2012, he had retired quietly from the elementary school west of Lantana. But five years later, allegations of his behavior during his final years there have become public for the first time: multiple allegations of inappropriate interactions with his young female students, according to state teacher disciplinary documents.

In 2010 and 2011, state records show the school district investigated complaints about him and young students. State officials say he took girls to the movies, out to eat and shopping without other adults present. He drove them, without written parental permission, in his car from school.

In February 2011, when he was 68, the school district reprimanded him for giving a female student $100 and for helping a student get a belly button ring without her parents’ knowledge, newly released state records show.

Then in 2013, a year after his retirement, there came an even more troubling claim: A student at Indian Pines Elementary told police that, two years earlier, Grace had fondled her twice when they were alone in his third-grade classroom.

In December 2013, the school district warned Grace that the case against him would be reopened if he tried to teach at another county school.

The girl had come forward after learning in a fifth-grade class about the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, a police report shows.

After the discussion, the girl passed a written note to the teacher: “What if it’s an adult touching you but it’s a very good friend of yours?”

Questioned first by the teacher and later by school district police, the girl said that in third grade, when Grace was her teacher, he had twice asked her to stay behind after class to help put books away.

After straightening up the books, the girl said Grace came up and hugged her from behind, running his hands up and down the front of her body and squeezing her chest, the report stated.

The detective assigned to the case tried to question Grace but could not reach him by phone or certified letter. Unable to interview him, the officer dropped the case, records show.

In December 2013, the school district sent Grace a letter warning that the case would be reopened if he ever tried to teach again in a county school.

Grace, who could not be reached for comment, was never arrested or charged with a crime, and records indicate the allegations were never made public or pursued further.

But nearly five years after his retirement, the allegations were cited as evidence last week by the state’s Education Practices Commission as it moved to bar the retired educator, now 74, from teaching again, revoking his teaching license for five years.

The veteran teacher had spent decades in the county’s elementary schools, teaching at S.D. Spady Elementary in Delray Beach before Indian Pines.

Over the years, he had earned accolades for his approach to teaching new math concepts to students: having students volunteer to teach to their peers. In an interview with The Post in 2005, he said he once founded a school in Peru and helped to support it by sending supplies, clothing and food.

Even in retirement, he is still revered. In January, a former student sent him birthday greetings on Facebook. “Happy Birthday to my favorite and most influential teacher,” he wrote. “If it wasn’t for you and your words of encouragement, I would never have believed in myself enough to go to college.”

But invited by the state commission to offer a defense, he declined to respond.

“The commission finds that (Grace) was properly served with the administrative complaint, has failed to respond timely, and has waived any right to be heard,” the report stated.

Hidden Oaks principal steered school donations to son’s charity drive

Hidden Oaks Elementary (file photo 2005)

The principal of Hidden Oaks Elementary steered $1,300 from school fundraisers to an out-of-town charity drive organized by her son without disclosing her family connection to the event, an investigation by the Palm Beach County School Board’s inspector general has found.

The inspector general found no evidence that Principal Sari Myers violated school district policies or that her son benefited financially from the arrangement, but investigators concluded that she failed to “fully disclose to her staff the purpose of the fundraiser event.”

The issue came to the attention of school district administrators via an anonymous letter in February from an employee at the suburban Boynton Beach school, who said that using school fundraisers to aid her son’s fundraising efforts for a University of Florida dance marathon diverted potential contributions from the school’s annual safety patrol trip to Washington D.C.

Principal Sari Myers

“We thought it was odd we were fundraising for Children’s Miracle Network because we’ve never discussed anything about that charity and we always do that particular event for our safety patrols,” the employee wrote.

The money was raised via a series of dress-down events, in which employees and students paid $5 for the right to wear jeans or pajamas to school on particular days, including a “Miracle Jeans Day” in November and a “Pajama Day” in December.

In emails promoting the event, Myers told school staffers that the proceeds would be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network, a Utah-based non-profit that raises money for children’s hospitals and medical research.

While the money ultimately went to the non-profit, it was channeled through her son’s personal fundraising drive for a dance marathon event at UF, where he was a student. The money then was passed on through the Children’s Miracle Network to the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, according to the event’s website.

Students participating in the dance marathon events did not benefit financially, although reaching fundraising goals may have made participants and their organizations eligible for prizes and recognition, according to event guidelines published online. With help from Hidden Oaks’ fundraisers, Myers’ son raised a total of $6,000 on behalf of his fraternity, surpassing his $5,000 fundraising goal.

Separately, students at several area high schools raised more than $200,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network this year through their own mini-marathons modeled after the UF event.

Myers admitted to an investigator that she may not have explained to her staff the precise nature of the fundraising drive or her son’s role in it, but the inspector general did not find evidence that she had abused her authority in directing the money to her son’s charity efforts.

Myers did not respond to requests for comment. A school district spokeswoman pointed out that the investigation did not find evidence of wrongdoing and rejected the allegation that the fundraising for her son crowded out the school’s efforts to raise money for safety patrol trip.

“The fundraiser referenced in the report was not in lieu of a fundraiser for the school’s safety patrols’ annual trip to Washington, D.C.,” district spokeswoman Kathy Burstein said in a statement. “Mrs. Myers is one of the district’s most active supporters of the safety patrols’ annual trip, helping to organize the train trip each year.”

PBC teachers union rejects recount; Katz poised for presidency

Justin Katz

A Palm Beach County teachers union panel on Wednesday rejected a request for a recount in the union’s presidential election, securing a narrow victory for a 33-year-old teacher who ran as an outsider.

Results tallied Saturday showed that Park Vista High teacher Justin Katz narrowly edged out Pahokee Middle-Senior High teacher Gordan Longhofer by 28 votes out of 1,356 cast, a 2 percent margin of victory.

But leaders of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association declined Monday to certify the results of the presidential election after Longhofer called for a recount, saying that he should have a chance to make his case to an elections panel.

Wednesday night, that panel denied Longhofer’s request, and Longhofer announced that he would not pursue the matter further. Union leaders still have to officially certify the election results.

Katz, who is also a Boynton Beach city commissioner, said afterward that he was “happy with the results” and that some of controversies that emerged during that campaign had prompted him to plan a review of the union’s election rules.

“I ran for this position because I truly believed that we needed new blood and a contemporary leader, willing to take bold steps in order to achieve our long stalled union goals,” he wrote in a statement to the Palm Beach Post.

“I am more confident now than ever that the CTA and the PBC School District are in a position to turn the page on the turmoil and adversarial roles we’ve become accustomed to for what feels like forever.”

On his Facebook page, Longhofer announced that he had congratulated Katz and would not appeal the election panel’s decision.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to all of my supporters during this CTA election,” Longhofer wrote.

Former assistant principal’s license revoked after sex harassment allegations

Oscar Villanueva

State officials have permanently revoked the teaching license of a former Pahokee Junior-Senior High School assistant principal who was fired last year after being accused of sexually harassing two students.

Oscar Villanueva, of Clewiston, was terminated in June by the Palm Beach County School Board after accusations that he groped a female student and asked another one to send him pictures of her legs.

One of the students said that Villanueva, then 60, told her that if he was her age he would make her his girlfriend, and that he asked her to send him pictures of her legs, according to a school district report.

Another student said that Villanueva touched her buttocks two separate times and asked her if he could touch her with no pants on, the report said.

Villanueva denied both allegations and said he believed the accusations were provoked by his decision to remove a friend of the accusers from the school’s soccer team, according to a police report.

School district police investigated the allegations but did not file charges. School officials reported the incidents to the state Department of Children and Families hotline.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Education permanently revoked Villanueva’s educator’s certificate.

Records show that Villanueva agreed to surrender it voluntarily and agreed not to appeal. He did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

PBC school board asks parents to join in push for Gov. Scott to veto state budget

The Palm Beach County School District’s website on Wednesday called on Gov. Rick Scott to veto the proposed state budget.

Palm Beach County’s public school system called on parents Wednesday to pressure Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Legislature’s proposed state budget and a sweeping education bill, saying that both would harm the school district’s financial ability to teach children.

Taking advantage of its massive bully pulpit as the educator of more than 165,000 students, the school district emailed parents across the county to urge them to contact Scott’s office, providing his office’s phone number and email.

“Call Governor Scott and encourage him to use his veto powers,” the message said.

Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a Palm Beach County elementary school. (File photo)

Scott has criticized the Legislature’s spending plan and hinted Tuesday at the possibly of a veto, which would send state lawmakers back to Tallahassee to draw up a new spending plan or vote to override the veto.

“I am beginning to review the budget,” Scott said in a statement, “and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers.”

With the unusual call on parents to take political action, the school district heightened its pushback against the Legislature’s budget, which public school leaders say gave them short shrift, and an education bill that gives charter schools a larger share of money typically reserved for traditional public schools.

“It is rare that the Board or School District use our public platforms to advocate on an issue,” the district wrote in its message to parents. “However, vetoing the budget and sending legislators back to Tallahassee is critically important to our school district, our employees and most importantly our students.”

Avossa said that calling for parents to become politically active was appropriate considering the “unprecedented” nature of the Legislature’s proposals.

“Obviously we can’t force anybody to do that, but we think it’s important to get the message out,” he said.

The email was sent out on the heels of a discussion Wednesday by county school board members that centered on the portions of the legislation that they viewed as a threat to public school operations.

Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Under the proposed state budget, Palm Beach County schools would see a 1.3 percent increase in money it receives per student from the state. That’s roughly the same increase that it received last year, records show. But school districts statewide would receive a far lower increase on average of just 0.3 percent.

Meanwhile, other sources of state money would be carved up, with a disproportionate share going to charter schools, district officials said.

School board members were equally troubled by the passage of a sweeping education bill (House Bill 7069), which would allow charter schools to take a share of local property taxes dedicated to school construction and maintenance that, until now, could only be used by traditional public schools.

That could mean the school district being required to hand over $10 million next year to charter schools that would otherwise be dedicated to the district’s own construction and repairs.

“It’s going to jeopardize our ability to maintain our facilities once again,” said Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer. “If we take this type of hit it’s really going to have a dramatic impact.’

School board member Frank Barbieri applauded the call to action, saying that he was “shocked that the public is not outraged.”

“The governor needs to veto this bill because it’s not good for kids,” he said.

School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw echoed his concerns.

“It is a direct attack on every parent in Palm Beach County for parents to live with this,” he said.

PBC teachers union defends decision not to certify outsider’s presidential victory

Gordan Longhofer (left) is challenging Justin Katz’s apparent victory in the Palm Beach County teachers union’s presidential race.

Faced with blowback from upset teachers, the president of Palm Beach County’s teachers union on Tuesday defended union leaders’ decision not to certify the results of its presidential election, in which a union outsider narrowly defeated a sitting board member.

Kathi Gundlach, the union’s outgoing president, said that the union’s board declined to certify the results on the advice of state union officials, in an effort to avoid a later legal challenge.

“If a challenge has been made, it has to be addressed,” she said.

A message that Katz posted on Facebook after Monday’s meeting

According to Saturday’s tally, Park Vista High teacher Justin Katz narrowly edged out Pahokee Jr./Sr. High teacher Gordan Longhofer by 28 votes out of 1,356 cast, a 2 percent margin of victory.

Two days later, Longhofer, a member of the union’s board of directors, requested that the votes be recounted by hand. The union’s board agreed to let an elections committee consider the request on Wednesday before certifying the election.

Katz, who is also a Boynton Beach city commissioner, took to Facebook Monday to raise concerns about the move, saying that the company that oversaw the voting process has already handed over the ballots to union leaders, many of whom opposed Katz’s outsider campaign.

“I am cautiously optimistic that ultimately my victory will be certified,” he wrote. “However, given election disasters and improprieties in recent past CTA elections… none of this sits well with me.”

In an interview Tuesday, Longhofer defended his call for the recount, saying that the margin of victory was slim enough that double-checking it seemed prudent.

“It’s 28 votes,” he said. “It’s the closeness of the raw number of votes in this particular election.”

Since the union has no policy regarding recounts, he said he had no choice but to raise the matter himself by challenging the election results.

“We don’t have procedures in our documents that pertain to recounts,” he said.

Several teachers have taken to social media to express their anger with what they characterized as the union’s refusal to accept the results.

“The thieves don’t want to leave,” teacher Bobbie Glatt wrote on Facebook. “Surprise surprise. We may need to start another union.”

“If the union doesn’t certify him president I will cancel my membership,” teacher George Ryan wrote on Facebook. “I encourage others to do the same.”

Gundlach pushed back against suggestions that she and other union leaders were trying to steal the victory from Katz, who criticized the union’s current leadership during his campaign.

“I do take umbrage that it’s us against Justin,” she said. “It’s not against Justin. We have to follow the process and procedure.”

CTA President Kathi Gundlach

But Gundlach conceded that, in entertaining a recount request, the union is in uncharted waters.

The union’s bylaws make no provisions for recounts, and Gundlach said she could not recall another occasion in which the union agreed to recount election results days after the initially tally.

Florida law calls for recounts in government elections when the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent. Katz pointed out that his reported margin of victory was more than four times the state’s threshold.

A spokesman for the state teachers union, the Florida Education Association, confirmed that its attorney consulted with the CTA about its recount request, though he said the attorney did not tell them whether or not to approve the recount.

“He advised them to follow their election guidelines, which require ‘that in the event of an election challenge, the board of directors will certify the final results of the election upon the CTA’s resolution of such challenge,’” FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow said. “That’s the extent of the direction FEA has provided.”

While a private election company oversaw the initial count, the ballots are now in a box in the union’s West Palm Beach headquarters, Gundlach said.

The election-management company has electronic records of the original ballot count, but a hand recount that uncovers new ballots could raise questions about how the ballots are being secured.

During the campaign, union leaders had tried to block Katz from running, removing him from the race in January after ruling that he was ineligible because his dues lapsed in 2015 when he took a family leave to care for his dying grandmother.

He was reinstated later, after the state teachers union called for him to be permitted to run and said that the county union’s leaders lacked “sufficient evidence to support their position.”

UPDATE: PBC teachers union won’t certify outsider’s win after opponent calls for recount

Justin Katz

UPDATE: Palm Beach County’s teachers union declined Monday to certify the results of its presidential election after the losing candidate called for a recount.

Results tallied Saturday showed that Park Vista High teacher Justin Katz narrowly edged out Pahokee Jr./Sr. High teacher Gordan Longhofer by 28 votes out of 1,356 cast, a 2 percent margin of victory.

NEW: PBC teachers union defends decision not to certify outsider’s presidential victory

But Kathi Gundlach, president of the Classroom Teachers Association said the results “are unofficial at this time.”

“A recount has been requested as the vote differential was 28 votes,” she told The Palm Beach Post in a text message Monday evening.

The union’s elections committee will meet on Wednesday, she said, and “at that time a determination will be made how to handle the requested recount.”

Katz said in a statement on Facebook Monday night that Longhofer, who is a member of the union’s board of directors, had called for the recount.

In his statement, Katz said that the union has no policy about recounts in its rules and bylaws, but that he was told that the recount was being requested due to the “closeness of vote margin.”

One problem: the company that oversaw the voting process has already handed over the ballots to union leaders, many of whom opposed Katz’s outsider campaign, Katz said.

“The ballots have been in the possession of the current CTA executive director (a supporter of my opponent) since the initial, objective third-party counting this past Saturday,” Katz wrote. “The lack of security and integrity surrounding any recount, given that fact, is of great concern to me.”



Palm Beach County’s public school teachers have narrowly chosen a 33-year-old high school instructor as union president, according to preliminary returns, handing the leadership role to a young newcomer to union politics who ran an outsider campaign and was initially blocked from running by union leaders.

Justin Katz edged out Gordan Longhofer 692 to 664, according to Saturday’s tally.

According to unofficial results tallied on Saturday, Justin Katz, a Park Vista High School teacher who is also a Boynton Beach city commissioner, narrowly defeated Pahokee Jr./Sr. High School teacher Gordan Longhofer, according to two officials familiar with the vote tally.

The union’s board of directors will meet today to discuss the results.

Katz ran for union president as an outsider, hoping to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the county Classroom Teachers Association’s recent track record. Billing his relative youth and lack of prior union experience as assets, he vowed to bring “fresh blood and some more youthful leadership” to an organization that advocates for the county school district’s roughly 12,000 teachers.

Longhofer edged him out in a crowded field in the first round of voting but Katz pulled out a narrow victory in the runoff. Out of roughly 1,300 votes cast, Katz won by a less than 60, two people familiar with the results said.

Union leaders had tried to block Katz from running, removing him from the race in January after ruling that he was ineligible because his dues lapsed in 2015 when he took a family leave to care for his dying grandmother.

He was reinstated later, after the state teachers union called for him to be permitted to run and said that the county union’s leaders lacked “sufficient evidence to support their position.”

All told, union leaders tried to disqualify four of the eight candidates who filed to run for president. All four, including Katz, were reinstated after the state union criticized their actions.

In a message posted on Facebook Saturday, Katz expressed gratitude to his supporters. The high school government teacher, who declined to comment for this article, is believed to be one of the youngest teachers to be elected president of the county’s teachers union.

“I’d like to thank all those that ran and put in the time and energy fighting for CTA to improve moving forward,” he wrote.

Police say this woman stole $66,000 from Bak Middle School and got away with it

Parents line up outside Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.

The treasurer of Bak Middle School of the Arts stole $66,000 from the school over three years, a police investigation concludes, removing the money bit by bit from more than 100 deposits placed in the school’s safe between 2012 and 2015.

But even though the money – much of it from fundraisers intended to support student activities and sports teams – was never recovered, she will not face any criminal charges.

School district detectives determined that the treasurer, Cathleen Spring, 52, committed grand theft, petit theft and an organized scheme to defraud, going undetected for years as she stole away cash intended for student activities, according to a police affidavit.

Cathleen Spring

But state prosecutors declined last year to take the case, saying that police’s findings amounted to “circumstantial evidence.”

The police investigation, revealed in a report released last week by the school board’s inspector general, sheds light on a case that shook the campus of the prestigious arts-themed middle school two years ago and left it short of money for student projects, sports and special events.

Spring — who resigned during the investigation — was the only school employee responsible for removing cash from the safe and depositing it in the school’s bank accounts. In 108 cases, police say money vanished from deposits between the time that Spring removed them and when they were taken to the bank.

“Spring was the last individual to be in possession of these deposits later discovered missing,” school district police Detective Kevin McCoy wrote in an arrest report. “Defendant Spring never reported individual deposits missing, or documented on the drop-safe log these deposits were missing.”

Spring, who with her husband owns a $456,000 home in West Palm Beach’s Stonewall Estates community, denied taking the money but told police she could not explain how it disappeared. She was removed from the school as police began their investigation in March 2015 and resigned five months later.

Spring was hired by the school district in 2012 and was earning $25,600 annually in her role as the school’s treasurer when the financial problems came to light, records indicate. She and her husband, Christopher Spring, own and operate George’s Paint and Hardware in West Palm Beach, according to state records.

Reached Monday, she declined to comment. Her attorney also declined to discuss the case, saying he hadn’t had a chance to review the investigation.

Not only did tens of thousands of dollars disappear after being in Spring’s custody, police say they found repeated evidence of efforts to cover up the vanished cash.

In March 2015, investigators say they found shredded financial logs in a waste basket in Spring’s office. When they pieced together the documents, they turned out to be records of deposits that had vanished. Confronted, police say Spring denied shredding the documents and said other employees had access to her office.

In another case, investigators said they opened a second safe in Spring’s office – one where she stored deposit bags awaiting pick-up by a bank courier – and found that deposits that Spring had recently removed from the school’s main safe were not there and could not be accounted for.

Erasure liquid was used to blot out details about cash deposits in the school safe. (Source: Palm Beach County School Board Office of Inspector General)

Detectives also say in another instance Spring removed a deposit from the safe containing cash and checks but only deposited the checks. As the cash vanished, a portion of the report indicating that there had been cash in the deposit was blotted out with erasure liquid, police discovered.

When the school athletic director complained that an internal sports account has less money in it than it should, police say Spring transferred money from other school accounts without authorization.

Spring admitted to police that she forged the principal’s signature on a $7,433 check to cover sports uniform purchases, ones that were supposed to be paid out of the mysteriously low sports account. Police theorized the forgery could have been intended “to conceal the theft of (the) funds.”

Just before a trip to New York in 2015, police say Spring used her school-issued credit card to order two pairs of Uggs boots worth $320, then covered the payment by pulling money from the school’s after-care program.

When police found one of the pairs of boots in her office, records show she told them that was the only pair she had bought and claimed she was planning to return them. She changed her story, police say, when they confronted her with evidence showing she had also purchased a second pair.

In 2014, police say Spring used her school district credit card to pay for $90 in airline fees to JetBlue, then charged the expense to the school’s visual arts department.

On a bank statement for the card, a detective noticed that erasure liquid had been used to cover up a mention of her son’s name on a line item for one of the JetBlue expenses. Her son did not attend the school.

At the same time that money was disappearing from the safe, police found that Spring was making large cash deposits into her family’s bank account. In less than 3 ½ years, nearly $22,000 in cash was deposited into the family’s credit union account in her name, according to bank records cited in the police report.

But detectives could not prove whether the cash she deposited in her accounts was money that disappeared from the school safe.

All told, the collected evidence was not enough to pass muster with the state attorney’s public corruption unit, which dismissed it as circumstantial and said that detectives failed to prove conclusively that Spring had taken the money herself.

“In essence, the state would have to prove a negative, that no one else but Cathleen Spring could have stolen the money and that the 108 deposit envelopes actually contained the amounts recorded on them with Spring being the only one to count all the funds,” Assistant State Attorney Timothy Beckwith wrote in September.

“With the passage of time, and the lack of any direct evidence to support this conclusion,” he wrote, “the state cannot meet its burden.”

For the inability to prosecute the case, Beckwith blamed the school itself, saying that its financial controls were too lax.

“The procedures in place for the safekeeping of the monies deposited and the lack of any video surveillance or other safeguards for the initial depositing of collected monies also make it impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who actually took the money,” he wrote.

The case came to police’s attention in early 2015 via the school’s athletic director, who noticed discrepancies in the amount of money being deposited into the athletic program’s bank accounts.

In its investigation released last week, the inspector general faulted school leaders for failing to maintain adequate procedures.

“It is the school administration’s responsibility to train and monitor staff on the required controls to maintain and ensure the integrity of cash collections,” the office concluded.

In an interview, Principal Sally Rozanski criticized the state attorney’s office’s conclusion’s as full of “inaccuracies” and defended the school’s procedures for handling cash deposits.

“There are procedures in place,” she said. “She (Spring) didn’t follow the procedures.”

She added that since the incident the school has taken additional measures to prevent future thefts and had recently received a clean audit.

But she acknowledged that the scale of the thefts had been “devastating” for the school and that she and her staff were saddened to learn that prosecutors would not press charges against Spring.

“I am disappointed,” she said, “and I am sure my staff is as well.”


13 Reasons Why: Schools chief says series is prompting students to harm themselves

This image released by Netflix shows Katherine Langford in a scene from the series, “13 Reasons Why,” about a teenager who commits suicide. The stomach-turning suicide scene has triggered criticism from some mental health advocates that it romanticizes suicide.” (Beth Dubber/Netflix via AP)

Palm Beach County educators are blaming 13 Reasons Why, a popular Netflix series, for an increase in students threatening suicide, mutilating themselves and being involuntarily institutionalized.

In a letter sent Friday afternoon to parents, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa wrote that the series has been a cause of “an increase in youth at-risk behavior” in county schools. Schools officials say about a dozen incidents in the past week alone have been linked to the series.

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The series, released March 31, tells the fictional story of the suicide of a 17-year-old girl, who leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people who she said were partially responsible for her death.

Based on a young adult novel of the same name, it has been criticized for romanticizing suicide, and in recent weeks schools across the country have warned parents about its potential effect on emotionally vulnerable teens.

But Avossa said the show’s effect on students goes beyond theoretical concerns.

In several cases, he warns parents, students in the county’s public schools have “articulated associations of their at-risk behavior to the 13 Reasons Why Netflix series.”

Among the acts believed to have been inspired at least in part by the series, he said, were “self-mutilation, threats of suicide, and multiple Baker Act incidents.” Baker Act incidents are cases in which people are involuntarily committed for mental health examinations due to concerns they suffer from a mental illness or may a risk to themselves.

Experts urge caution in letting teens watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

A school district spokeswoman declined to give specifics about the incidents Avossa cited but said that district officials have become aware of at least a dozen cases in the past week of acts or threats of self-harm inspired by the series.

Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.” (Beth Dubber, Netflix)

“We’ve had a dozen in the past week,” spokeswoman Kathy Burstein said. “They believe it’s linked to the show.”

The National Association of School Psychologists recently issued its own warning about the series, pointing out that being exposed to accounts of suicidal acts is a “risk factor” for troubled teens.

“Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide,” the association warns in a letter on its website.

Avossa’s letter urges parents to prevent “vulnerable youth,” particularly students with suicidal thoughts, from watching the series.

“Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies,” Avossa’s letter quotes the National Association of School Psychologists as saying.

One of the show’s writers has defended the show’s treatment of such wrenching themes, including a graphic depiction of the suicidal act.

“Facing these issues head-on — talking about them, being open about them — will always be our best defense against losing another life,” writer Nic Sheff wrote in a column for Vanity Fair.

“I stand behind what we did 100 percent,” Sheff added. “I know it was right, because my own life was saved when the truth of suicide was finally held up for me to see in all its horror – and reality.”

Avossa’s letter makes a point to say it is not intended to be a criticism of the show.

“This advisory is for awareness purposes only and is in no way intended to be an indictment of the show or Netflix,” it states.

Here is the complete letter:

April 28, 2017

Parent Advisory

SUBJECT: Important Message from Superintendent Robert M. Avossa, Ed.D.

REGARDING: “13 Reasons Why” Netflix Series

As a father of a teenager and tween, I am very concerned about a dangerous trend we have observed in our schools in recent days. School District personnel have observed an increase in youth at-risk behavior at the elementary and middle school levels to include self-mutilation, threats of suicide, and multiple Baker Act incidents. Students involved in the recent incidents have articulated associations of their at-risk behavior to the “13 Reasons Why” Netflix series. The Netflix website tag-line summarizes the series theme as follows: “After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.”

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has issued cautions and considerations for educators and parents, as well as additional resources to support discussions about suicide with adolescents.

As an online series, it is possible many parents are unaware of the popularity of this show. As such, the District would like to share this resource and encourage parents to discuss its content if their teen or adolescent has viewed the show. This advisory is for awareness purposes only and is in no way intended to be an indictment of the show or Netflix.

In part, NASP cautions:

We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies. They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character. Unfortunately, adult characters in the show, including the second school counselor who inadequately addresses Hannah’s pleas for help, do not inspire a sense of trust or ability to help. Hannah’s parents are also unaware of the events that lead her suicide death.

While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show is vital. Doing so presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available. This is particularly important for adolescents who are isolated, struggling, or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines. Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.

The complete NASP recommendations and cautions, as well as additional support materials, can be found on our District home page, www.PalmBeachSchools.org.

If adults or teens know someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or text START to 741741.

Robert M. Avossa, Ed.D.

These two PBC high schools were just named among the nation’s 100 best

Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach was ranked 53rd in an annual ranking of the nation’s top public high schools.

Suncoast High School and Dreyfoos School of the Arts have been named two of the nation’s top 100 public high schools in a new ranking by U.S. News and World Report.

The magazine ranked Suncoast 53rd in the nation and Dreyfoos 78th in the nation. The schools took ninth and tenth place in Florida, respectively.

Suncoast and Dreyfoos, two selective, application-only public schools, are regular presences on the closely watched annual ranking but tend to battle for the county’s top billing. In 2015, Dreyfoos edged out Suncoast to win 68th place nationally.

Overall, 12 Palm Beach County schools made it into U.S. News’ list of the nation’s top 2,000 public high schools. Of the 12, 10 are school district schools and two — G-Star School of the Arts and Inlet Grove High — are charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated.

The national magazine says its annual rankings weigh schools’ graduation rates and how their students perform on state reading and math exams, with adjustments made for the percentage of disadvantaged students each school serves. This year, the magazine gave greater weight to the extent to which schools offer students college-level courses and exams.

The nation’s best high school? According to U.S. News, it’s BASIS Scottsdale, a charter school in Arizona.

Florida’s best high school? The magazine says it’s Pine View School, a school for gifted students in Sarasota County.

Here they are in order of ranking:

Suncoast High, #53

Dreyfoos School of the Arts, #78

Boca Raton High, #566

Spanish River High, #766

Jupiter High, #902

West Boca Raton High, #1,089

Atlantic High, #1,122

Olympic Heights High, #1,142

G-Star School of the Arts, #1,255

Park Vista High, #1,334

Wellington High, #1,592

Inlet Grove High, #1,957