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Education

School Board member’s comment on Guatemalan students sparks ire at Lee County school board meeting

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Lee County School District
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Lee County School District
Lee County School Board Member Chris Patricca

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, speakers took to the podium during the public comments period to voice their disapproval of a district board member’s comments regarding Guatemalan students. During a Zoom community forum, board member Chris Patricca was discussing the difficulties administrators face when figuring out placement for incoming international students based on their age and education level.

At Tuesday night’s Lee County School Board meeting, speakers took to the podium during the public comments period to voice their disapproval of what some call “racist” comments from a district board member regarding Guatemalan students.

During a Zoom community forum, school board member Chris Patricca was explaining the difficulties administrators face when placing incoming international students based on age and education level.

“We have a huge influx of students from Guatemala, where the formal education system goes through grade 3,” Patricca said. “If you have a 14 year old that moves here from Guatemala, you can’t put them in fourth grade so they go to high school.”

But people are taking issue with the comments Patricca made when she referenced other challenges.

“The biggest challenge that those principals are facing is getting them out of the bathroom because they’ve never seen running water before. So they go into the bathroom and they turn the water faucet on, they turn it off, and they flush the toilet and they’re fascinated by plumbing,” said Patricca.

That comment has parents calling for Patricca to resign.

Patricca has apologized for offending anyone with her comments.

“I am sorry. I am genuinely sorry that this has impacted the board. I am genuinely sorry that this has impacted the district. Many of you sitting at this table know what's in my heart, and that’s not it. I would never purposely say anything to hurt any person,” Patricca said.

She also said she emailed the executive director of the Guatemalan Mayan Center in Palm Beach County for a tour, for a conversation, and to educate herself on the Guatemalan Community.

One parent posted Patricca’s comments on YouTube asking principals if they have actually reported fascination with plumbing being an issue.

The public comments period of last night’s board meeting included many parents’ unhappiness with what they call a racist comment. Another speaker at the school board meeting echoed the call for Patricca’s resignation.

“I urge the board not to wait for her resignation but to demand her resignation,” said the speaker. “Governance by passivity is governance by corruption. District three’s apology in the media is far from an apology today. She was quoted as saying that she regrets hurting people’s feelings but she did not acknowledge the falsehoods in her statement. Nor did she acknowledge her obvious bias that brown children are uncivilized.”

While the majority of speakers gave their opinions on the racist undertones of Patricca’s comments, they believe there are other issues that are more important to discuss.

One public speaker at the meeting believed that board members need to focus on the real issues in education worrying the community.

“Humiliating and racist comments about a group of students is bad enough,” said the speaker. “But to say that it is the most pressing problem principals are facing shows total ignorance regarding our true concerns about the schools. Kids are failing academically, face bullying, depression, and an abundance of other issues that are far more concerning to students, parents, teachers and also the community. Flush Chris Patricca.”