LEE COUNTY — A former Lee County assistant principal claims her school was not reporting violent threats to the state, and she says, when she started bringing attention to the problem, she was let go.
Peggy Slichter says she has two motives right now. The first is to get justice for herself because she feels like she was wrongfully terminated by the School District for coming forward with concerns.
But she says the second motive is much more important, and that’s making sure violent threats get reported properly to keep schools safe. That’s why she says she’s trying to get the Florida Department of Education involved.
Slichter now has a binder full of threat assessment reports she saved from her time at Manatee Elementary School during the 2020 - 2021 school year. She said most of them never left the school building, and she could tell because she had access to the database.
"Three students threatened to bring a bomb to school. There was not even a referral for that," said Slichter.
Slichter provided us with copies of the reports, but we couldn’t verify their authenticity because the School District denied our public records request, saying the reports are not public information by law.
So we are not showing them or revealing their contents, but Slichter says the Florida Department of Education should have been getting those documents, and she can tell they weren’t based on her access to the school’s database at the time.
"We don’t know about it, the State doesn’t know about it. Nobody’s going to know to step in," said Slichter.
The pipeline of information Slichter is referring to is called SESIR: The School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting system.
It was developed by FLDOE back in 1995 to track violent incidents and threats to make sure problem students are identified and helped.
Then after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, a public safety commission called on the State to implement stricter reporting standards.
Max Schachter is a member of that commission. He’s also the father of Alex Schachter, who was one of the 17 students killed that day in Parkland.
"Prior to the shooting, for three consecutive years, they reported zero bullying, zero threat, zero assault, zero intimidation," said Schachter.
Schachter said, if Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had been reporting properly, his son might still be alive.
Since then, he has tried to hold schools accountable, running a website called Safe Schools for Alex, that compiles data reported to the State. When he heard about Slichter’s complaints, he did some research of his own and was surprised by what he found.
"Almost 50 percent of the elementary schools in Lee County did not report to SESIR," said Schachter.
Schachter is basing that on the fact that those schools don’t show up on FLDOE's last SESIR report from the 2019 - 2020 school year. We reached out to the Lee County School District, and it responded simply saying “The allegations remain under investigation.”
But Slichter says, she’s not waiting for that investigation to wrap up. An email chain shows she has already sent a letter to FLDOE, asking for "Whistleblower protection and an investigation into the... non-reporting of SESIR incidents.”
The FLDOE has not yet confirmed to us that it has received the letter.
She also said she filed a notarized complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Her attorney, Kevin Sanderson, said they are trying to tell anyone who will listen that violent threats aren’t being reported.
"Reporting things accurately can be important, because if we have a child, a student where there are multiple reports over the years, maybe that child can be helped before something terrible happens," said Sanderson.
"They need to know what’s going on. It’s not about me, it’s not about looking good. it’s about safety," said Slichter.
We also reached out to several School Board members about Slichter’s complaint. They told us they are aware of the School District’s internal investigation, but they can’t comment until it’s complete.
We also requested an interview with a School District representative, including the Superintendent himself, but we were not provided with one.
We also reached out to FLDOE over a month ago, but never received a response.
Looking forward, we are now waiting on the results from the School District’s internal investigation, and we have no way of knowing when that will wrap up. We’re also still waiting for FLDOE to release the SESIR data for the 2020 - 2021 school year, but when it does, that will give us the opportunity to compare Slichter’s reports with the State’s database.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission will also be meeting later this month on September 27th to discuss how the State can improve school safety, including issues with schools reporting violent threats.