Florida School Board Skipped School Bus Safety Audits, Faces Anti-SLAPP Motion in Court - PINAC News
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Florida School Board Skipped School Bus Safety Audits, Faces Anti-SLAPP Motion in Court

A northeastern Florida School Board sued PINAC reporter Jeff Gray in retaliation for seeking public records and investigating school bus safety practices in and around St. Augustine.

Gray’s latest video on his popular HonorYourOath Youtube Channel shows his lawyer’s reply, and can be seen below.

Now, public records provided by the district indicate that St. Johns’ school officials skipped a school bus safety audit in the years 2010 and 2011.

Just in the last two months, the district experienced a collision requiring the “jaws of life” to extract an injured child, and most recently, a serious fire with a bus full of children.

But the pre-trip safety inspection record provided by St. Johns County School District for the bus that caught on fire – like the document obtained from November’s accident – shows obvious signs of intentional misrepresentation, which can also be seen below.

Bus 235 was identified as the bus on fire, and it’s named driver in the record is “SUB BUS” and there’s only two trips logged in for the entire month of December 2015.

It is highly unlikely that any employee or bus driver is named “SUB BUS” and extremely likely that the record has been illegally altered to protect the name of the driver whose near fatal ride coincided with our December 16th report entitled “Florida Superintendent Unilaterally Suspends Constitution, Declares Jeff Gray Illegal for School Bus Reports.”

The bottom of the form clearly states that it is to be “filled out daily”, which also indicates that the district deployed a bus whose maintenance condition was largely unknown before catching fire.

Through great fortune, no children were injured or killed in the fire, but clearly the chances for children to be involved in a St. Johns County School District bus accident are far higher than their chances of winning Powerball.

In fact, PINAC’s continuing investigation has revealed that St. Johns County School District’s Transportation self-audits reveal a lack of institutional compliance with transportation safety requirements as far back as the 2006/2007 school year.

But the district either refuses to release any newer audit records, or hasn’t performed any safety audit whatsoever in the last ten years.

St. Johns Schools provided records proving that it failed one of five sections of a Florida Department of Education (FDOE) self-audit which necessitated a “Corrective Action Plan” to ensure that bus drivers regularly practiced evacuation drills.

The results of that plan and its contents are still pending, as well as a copy of the actual self-audit document since PINAC was only provided with the self-audit acceptance cover letter and end results.

In December 2015, the school district claimed by email that only the FDOE held the requested records, but their School Transportation Management Section confirmed that all such records are retained locally.

Emily Connor Serrano, the district’s “Confidential Secretary – Public Records,” has been the exclusive face of this author’s public records requests since then.

Serrano has thus far only delivered a copy of the most recent audit, and only then after faced with her own prior admission that bus safety audit records exist, and the state’s independent confirmation of St. Johns schools as custodian of the records.

When asked for the district’s bus safety audit policies, Serrano also included another copy of the district’s bus driver safety plan which omits the use of audits for safety records – and presumably any other safety practices – compliance to protect the 35,000 school age students using the busses, as well as other drivers and the numerous pedestrians exposed to risk by the vehicles with limited sight lines.

The school district – led by the vengeful and Constitution denying Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner pictured above with one of the numerous big checks he writes – also faces a scathing rebuke in court for their poorly written Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and revocation of the mind-bending 38 letter barrage directed at restricting Gray’s reporting under threat of arrest and prosecution for entering “School Safe Zones” or being within 500 feet of any county school in his hometown.

It’s no secret that Dr. Joyner hates Jeff Gray.

Joyner libeled Gray at a public meeting in September, claiming that he was “dangerous” and much more according to audio recordings from inside the room.  Dr. Joyner may be reached by phone at (904) 547-7502 or by email joseph.joyner@stjohns.k12.fl.us.

That incident led to numerous statements by Joyner and his subordinates wishing to change public records laws for their own convenience, numerous of which statements landed inside Gray’s motion to dispatch the school board’s lawsuit.

Jeff Gray’s lawyer, Lesley McKinney, filed a motion in late December seeking summary judgement using Florida’s newly enhanced anti-SLAPP statute whose language now specifically enshrines into state law a remedy for citizens sued for exercising their right to public participation.

If the anti-SLAPP motion is adjudicated in favor of Gray – it could force them to self-report their unconstitutional acts directly to the state attorney general and remand Jeff Gray’s video and public records evidence of felony forgery to a state’s attorney investigation as well.

While we did speak with McKinney, she indicated strongly that the motion “speaks for itself” and so we have collected a sampling some of the most relevant passages below for your perusal.

Despite the Plaintiff’s unsubstantiated characterizations, the actions undertook by GRAY are neither impermissible nor illegal. Plaintiff’s actions before and since the filing of this action make clear that this suit is punitive in nature against GRAY for the lawful exercise of fundamental Constitutional rights and intended to restrict him (under threat of arrest) from the continued exercise of such rights.

Therefore, what other purpose could this suit serve than to deter GRAY from exercising his First Amendment rights as a citizen-journalist and parent? This is a blatant SLAPP suit.

Despite GRAY’s “legitimate business” of news gathering and the absence of any reasonable belief of risk of crime, harassment, or intimidation, on December 7, 2015 (the day this suit was filed), Dr. Joseph G. Joyner, Superintendent of Schools, orchestrated a scheme to trespass warn GRAY from every “structure or property of the St. Johns County School Board.”

These letters far exceed the limitations set forth in Fla. Stat. § 810.0975 as Joyner’s letter requires an explanation of purpose and request for entry from the school principal for any presence, not only on school property, but on non-school property within 500 feet of such property. The clear indication that these letters were forwarded to both the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and St. Augustine Police Department presents a real threat that GRAY could be arrested merely for driving down the wrong public roadway at the wrong time of day. The prohibition also requires that any public records requests be made at the CRD – a clear violation of Fla. Stat. §119 – and admittedly known by the Plaintiff.

The only way a public records request would not be a “surprise,” is if one gave advance notice that a request was forthcoming. Again, Plaintiff is attempting to impose conditions upon requestors that do not exist in Fla. Stat. § 119.07. By definition, the first indication of an unexpected request would always be a “surprise.”

 A review of the (farcically “illegal”) video in the Maintenance Department documenting Ms. Lee’s refusal to permit inspection of maintenance records clearly shows that it is not the “public record demand” which is adversarial, but the record refusal.

A vexatious suit is one instituted maliciously and without good grounds, meant to create trouble and expense for the party being sued. Defendant is unsure which suit(s) Plaintiff is alleging have been vexatious in the past. As shown in Exhibits B and C, in CA15-1121, SJCSB’s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a cause of action was denied by this Court. However, Plaintiff has filed the instant suit “primarily because [GRAY] has exercised the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue” – a prohibited SLAPP suit. Fla. Stat. § 768.295(3).

Plaintiff appears to be requesting judicial intervention to prevent Plaintiff’s own actions.

The complete motion is published below.

Gray’s three children attend school in the northeastern Florida county between Jacksonville and Daytona, and his interest grew in bus safety after seeing an accident in which a child’s legs were crushed in a high-speed bus accident.

Ultimately, the legal matter will be resolved in front of a judge soon, but the safety matter is long from resolved.

Jeff Gray only spent five afternoons recording St. Johns school bus drivers skipping pre-trip safety inspections last year.

One of the bus drivers nearly hit Gray’s vehicle while he was in the back of his van, capturing footage.

St. Johns County School District then provided a forged record claiming that the bus driver had in fact performed the inspection that he was recorded skipping.

If a student skips school, the Superintendent can file a truancy petition and ultimately seek criminal charges against the parent.

PINAC’s Jeff Gray has revealed that the people responsible for schools bus safety in St. Augustine can skip virtually any safety inspection they wish.

How long until voters declare the St. Johns School Board “truant” in their own way and seek relief at the ballot box?

To speak with an FDOE official and request an audit of St. Johns County Schools District’s transportation services, contact Jamie Warrington, Administrator – SCHTRANS@fldoe.org, 325 W. Gaines Street, Room 834, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0400, Phone: 850-245-9795, Fax: 850-245-9935

 

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