Boca sex-on-campus investigation began with Apple Watch message

Two Olympic Heights High School teachers accused of having sexual encounters with each other on campus were outed by his Apple Watch and angry wife, according to a school district investigation of the matter.

Both lost their jobs during the course of the investigation.

Photo from Palm Beach County School Board investigation.

William Barham, 45, was fired – a process that was sped by the fact he’d been hired just a year ago to work in the school’s Junior ROTC program. Vocational teacher Laura Field, 28, quit, district officials report.

The principal of the Boca Raton school alerted parents of the matter March 2, after the two were no longer employed.

Investigators were tipped off on Feb. 24., according to reports released this week.

It appears Barham’s wife spotted a text message to him on his Apple watch. The message said, “This was a stupid flying(sic) we should have never done this. I’m going to lose my job for having sex with you at school. And for leaving school to have set together. Everyone knows.”

Barham’s wife took a picture of the message and contacted not only school officials, but the boyfriend of the teacher she suspected sent it.

That boyfriend gave investigators photos of the messages he took off Field’s phone from a contact she labeled “captainamerica” that further supported the accusations, according to the report.


Avossa ‘disgusted’ by child porn case; read full statement

(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Parents and educators at Howell L. Watkins Middle School and across the district learned yesterday that the FBI is seeking to arrest a well-regarded middle school teacher on child pornography charges.

Read the full story here. 

His victims are “numerous” and so far at least a handful of them are students who are in the district’s schools now, Superintendent Robert Avossa said Wednesday.

The teacher, Corey Perry, is on the run.

Avossa couldn’t speak to the details of the investigation, but he had these words to the man and the crime:

As a life long educator I am disgusted at what I have learned. He has hurt innocent children.

“This individual has embarrassed his school, his community and his entire profession by harming the most important thing entrusted to him – our students.

“He broke a sacred and professional code and I cannot and will not forgive him for that.

“I want the community to know that our district is bursting with fantastic teachers who have dedicated their lives to protecting our students. They go above and beyond each and every day to make sure our kids have everything they need to be successful in school.

“So do not judge the dedicated professionals by the actions of one.”

On its website, the Palm Beach County School District has posted several resources for parents that address online safety and how to navigate social media and technology.




Drug testing for substitute teachers, aides, tutors challenged


Update: See the school district’s reponse in bold, below.

A Boynton Beach retiree who has worked her way through the application process to be a tutor, a substitute teacher or a classroom aide is instead suing the Palm Beach County School Board because in order to land one of those jobs the district is demanding she – and every other job seeker – pass a drug test first.

Asking all applicants to submit to a drug test is what’s called “suspicionless drug testing,” and it’s been frowned upon as a practice by public agencies.

To be clear,  former teacher Joan Friedenberg, would “pass” such a test, her attorney James K. Green says, “but she is unwilling to forego her constitutional rights as a condition of employment.”

While private employers routinely require job applicants to be tested for drugs these days, courts have said that peeing in a cup for a drug screen is considered a search.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has held that suspicionless drug testing by the government is an unreasonable search that violates the Fourth Amendment, except under certain jealously guarded circumstances such as those involving employees in safety-sensitive positions where there is a concrete danger of real harm,” wrote Green, a former president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Those “safety-sensitive” jobs include nuclear power plant operator, people who work on natural gas pipelines, truck drivers, railroad operators.

Certain courts in the country have ruled that teachers aren’t in this category.

The school district stands by its policy.

“It is the District’s position that pre-employment testing is important and necessary to the hiring process, particularly when it comes to positions such as bus drivers, heavy equipment operators, teachers and other school-based positions involving regular contact with students,” according to a statement given to the The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday.

Friedenberg, a 65-year-old who was active in the classroom within the past five years, began applying for a job in the classroom in mid-December. By February,  she had been invited to an interview, taken a $25 course in how to be a substitute and was fingerprinted.

The only thing that stood between her and a job in a school was the drug test.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court on Feb. 22 is seeking class action status, intending to represent all who have sought a job at the district. It asks the court to halt the district’s drug-testing regime and declare the policy behind it unconstitutional.

Green said the ACLU had presented its concerns regarding this policy more than a year ago and tried to resolve the matter amicably to no avail.



Update: Teachers accused of giving hints on state tests fired



Update:  The school board agreed to fire the teachers. The item was on a consent agenda and passed without comment at Wednesday’s special meeting. For more details see the full story here. 


A thumbs-up here, a grumble or tap there have put the careers of two Palm Beach County elementary school teachers in peril after district investigators concluded they were tipping off third graders to right and wrong answers as the children sat for the statewide math exam last spring.

The investigation into the separate incidents at different schools began when students described their experience to other teachers — in one case within hours of putting down their No. 2 pencils, in the other within weeks of the test.

Throughout the investigations, both teachers denied breaking the rules, according to documents released by the Palm Beach County School District Tuesday. Neither teacher, nor their attorneys, replied to requests for comment Tuesday.

Sanders has worked for the district for 11 years; Rios logged eight years. Should the board approve the recommendations, both would lose their jobs effective Feb. 3.


See the full story, including excerpts of what their students said when questioned, here. 






No school Tuesday, Friday thanks to elections, Veterans Day


It is a very short school week for Palm Beach County students, with no classes Tuesday and Friday. For the full calendar go here. 

Tuesday, students get to stay home to make way for voters at 117 schools-turned-polling places. Teachers, however, will be clocking in for a teacher work day.

The district moved to clear students from campus on major election days back in 2010. Traffic and general safety concerns drove the move supported in the end by both school administrators and Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher.

Without students, the parking lot didn’t become a traffic jam of students and voters arriving at once and principals no longer had to worry about strangers wandering the campus.

Friday, both students and teachers have the day off as the district recognizes Veterans Day. In years past, students have had the day off, but teachers worked, but the arrangement didn’t sit well with some who spoke up at school board meetings, recalled teachers union President Kathi Gundlach.

Next up: three days off at Thanksgiving and a late start to the winter holiday, complicated by Christmas falling on a Sunday. Students end the week before on Thursday and a teacher work day falls that Friday before Christmas Eve.

Teachers are not supposed to take a personal day off on the day before or after a holiday, and there was concern that this rule could snag some folks’ travel plans, Gundlach said. The compromise is that district administrators have said they would be more flexible this year, she said.

“Is it the ideal calendar? Absolutely not, but we can’t change the date of Christmas,” Gundlach said. “There’s cooperation. We’re working to give teachers more flexibility.”







Florida stops rating preschools, but how does its pre-K program rate?

The state has put a hold on rating the preschool providers who deliver Florida’s Voluntary PreKindergarten program to thousands of 4-year-olds.  The full story on what went wrong is here.

But how does Florida’s program as a whole rate?

In its most recent state rankings for pre-school (2013-14), the National Institute for Early Education Research out of Rutgers University gave Florida mixed reviews:

No. 3 in access to 4-year-olds (D.C. and Vermont rated higher) – but  at the bottom for 3 –year-olds because they aren’t served.

No. 36 by state spending

No. 37 on overall spending (that includes other money sources including federal programs)

3 of 10 on quality.

The institute ranked states on access for 4-year-olds, 3-year-olds, how much the state spends on its program, and how it fares on a 10-item checklist of program quality. The checklist asks does a state set learning standards, require teachers with a degree or specialized training, sets maximum class sizes and what that maximum is, wat is the staff-to-child ratio and more.

Map from NIEER's 2014 State of Preschool Yearbook.
Map from NIEER’s 2014 State of Preschool Yearbook.

Top spenders were D.C. and New Jersey which invested more than $15,000 and $12,000 per student compared to Florida’s $2,200 that year. Florida’s per student spending has increased to $2,437 this year.

Florida was among six states to meet fewer than half of the 10 benchmarks. The others include California, Ohio, Vermont, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Florida got credit for setting early learning standards, having class sizes that topped out at 20 and conducting site visits to ensure the standards are met. The state does not require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, require classroom assistants to have a child development certification or offer at least 15 hours of in-service training. In the 2013-14 school year, the state’s pre-k providers were not held to a staff-child ratio of 10:1 or better, required to screen for vision, hearing and health or required to offer at least one meal.




Two high school teachers to be fired for inappropriate acts in class

SAVE-classroomPalm Beach County’s public school system is moving to fire two high school teachers after allegations of inappropriate behavior in the classroom.

Scott Erich Landstrom, who was a Suncoast High School physics teacher last year, is being recommended for termination after parents complained a year ago that he made inappropriate comments in class, including using the word “whore” during a lesson, school district records show.

Landstrom previously had been reprimanded for making inappropriate comments to students, records show.

Edwardo Zamora, a Forest Hill High School drama teacher last year, is being recommended for termination after complaints that he inappropriately touched several of his students.

According to a school district report, the allegations “included groping, touching, biting and sexual jokes.”

During an investigation, Zamora denied any wrongdoing, records show.

Superintendent Robert Avossa has recommended that both teachers be fired. School board members are expected to consider the recommendation today.

Palm Beach County schools raises: Who got what?

Take notes...
Take notes…

Wednesday the board approved raises for its employees. Here’s a more detailed list of who got what.


  • The Association of Educational Secretaries and Office Professionals
    • Retroactive to January 1, 2016
    • Raises base pay by 2 percent
    • All current employees receive 3 percent increase
  • The Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association (School District Police)
    • Retroactive to January 1, 2016
    • Maximum hourly pay increased by 3 percent
  • FPSU-SEIU (includes custodians, bus drivers, food service, paraprofessionals and other non-instructional employees)
    • Retroactive to January 1, 2016
    • All employees earning less than $10/hour will have their pay increased to $10/hour
    • Bus drivers will earn a base pay of $14/hour
    • Veteran drivers will receive an increase of $1.63/hour
    • All other employees will receive a 3 percent increase
  • Classroom Teachers Association
    • Retroactive to July 1, 2015
    • Increase by an average of 3 percent
      • Highly effective teachers will see a little more – approximately $1,700 a year, vs. $1,275 for effective teachers and new teachers who have not yet received an evaluation
      • There are approximately 4,860 highly effective teachers in the district
    • Pay for part-time work increased to $25/hour
      • Includes Professional Development Days, tutorials, Adult/Community Education classes and working an extra class period
      • First time this supplement has increased in about a decade
    • Non-Bargaining Unit employees (Administrative/Professional, Managerial, Miscellaneous, Confidential) and School-Based Administrators
      • Retroactive to July 1, 2015
      • Increase by an average of 3 percent


Bus drivers, teachers, school staff set to see raises; Board vote tonight



060713 met school bus 2Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa is expected to announce the district has reached agreements that will land its employees – from bus drivers to principals – raises for this year.

This morning, the contracts were posted to today’s school board agenda under new business. The one contract not posted by 1:50 p.m. was the Classroom Teachers Association, but union President Kathi Gundlach says that those negotiations have also ended in a raise that averages 3.1 percent and also gives teachers more money when they tutor, do in-service work and when they work at schools where students face the additional challenge of poverty and in schools with low grades from the state.

Update: The teacher raises are to be retroactive to July 2015, Gundlach said.

For others, in the most general terms, the raises appear to be 3 percent dating back to January 2015, with some exceptions. They cover everyone from interpreters for the deaf to principals and secretaries.

Notably, the base pay for bus drivers would go to $14 an hour, that’s an increase of $1.63. The district’s transportation was hit hard this fall with a double whammy: a new computerized route system that doled out impossible routes to drivers and a stable of drivers that was 50 to 75 drivers short. Both the superintendent and the drivers pointed to low salaries as part of the problem.