Parents react after Orange County Public Schools accused of underreporting safety incidents

Apopka parents defend schools mentioned in report

Apopka parents are standing behind their schools after allegations from the Department of Education that Orange County Public Schools have violated state laws concerning school safety.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Apopka parents are standing behind Orange County Public Schools after the district came under fire for violating state laws concerning school safety, according to the Florida Department of Education.

A letter sent Monday by the department is calling for an in-person meeting sometime next week with the school district’s superintendent to discuss the systemic underreporting of criminal activity to the state.

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This comes after letters were sent to multiple school districts, including Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Duval and Orange counties, looking to hold them accountable for school safety measures.

In its letter to Orange County, the state said it wished to address “identified failures and concerns” within Orange County Public Schools.

State officials also singled out schools in Apopka that have suppressed incidents and hindered police investigations. In the letter, they said law enforcement had to obtain subpoenas when requesting video of recorded crimes, some of which involve firearms.

News 6 spoke with both Jenifer Topinka and Donna Speck, two parents shocked by the allegations.

“Obviously we don’t know everything the administrators are sending to the Department of Education, but they are very open with us,” Topinka said.

Both said the administrators for Apopka High School have always been forthcoming with safety information and used Friday night’s football game as an example.

“We had a threat here tonight. That’s why we had more police presence and our principal sent out a thing to let all parents ... know there was a threat,” Topinka said.

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The letter and allegations stem from the final report from the Twentieth Statewide Grand Jury.

It’s the same report that led to Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissing four Broward county school board members last week.

DeSantis formed the grand jury in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

The report does note education officials did not see widespread evidence of overt fraud in Orange County as they have in other districts, but it did call out some schools within the district.

In the report, OCPS violations are not mentioned until page 99.

According to state officials, Apopka police wrote a public letter to the school board in 2016 documenting “multiple incidents of teachers and administrators that received complaints of sex crimes (one student-on-student, one teacher-on-14-year-old-student), but failed to report the incidents to law enforcement or the Department of Child and Families.

The report then said the “situation got worse” in Apopka.

In 2019, DCF reported an elementary school student molested a disabled girl in a bathroom, even though educators knew not to leave the student unsupervised because of prior issues.

In 2018-19, there were numerous incidents where students physically attacked school resource officers or engaged in fights with the Apopka Police Department, and despite requests to remove the students, they remained in school.

The report also spotlights an incident during which a teen brought a gun to school and, after dismissal, shot another student in a neighborhood near the school.

When asked for a comment on the letter and report, the school district responded, “Student safety is our highest priority, but we do not comment on specific security matters.”

Parents said in the end, they will stand behind their schools.

“All of my kids have gone to Apopka School and we always felt safe,” Topinka said.

Speck agreed, adding she loves the local schools.

“I wouldn’t think of any other place to send them around Central Florida,” she said.

It has not been made clear when this in-person meeting between the state and Orange County Public Schools will take place.

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.