Cobb Middle School Teachers Allege Hostile Work Environment

Cobb Middle School Teachers Allege Hostile Work Environment

As the saga at Cobb Middle School continues to unfold, teachers have begun to come forward with allegations that they say define a “hostile work environment.”

The decision to go public with the allegations is being driven by the changing status of the Cobb Middle School Principal Sarah Hembree.

Yesterday teachers at the school say they were told Hembree was on leave but were informed today, by Superintendent Rocky Hanna, that she will return on Wednesday.

Leon County Schools (LCS) have denied Hembree was on leave due to the investigation.

Yesterday LCS confirmed that officials were on school grounds as part of the investigation.

The existence of an investigation at Cobb Middle School was first publicly revealed by LCS Board attorney Opal Williams during the last LCS meeting after a parent complained about racial bias by Hembree.

After her comments, Williams stated the issue was under investigation.

TR has since learned that the investigation Williams was referring to at the LCS meeting was based on teacher allegations that were first forwarded to LCS officials in March 2019.

TR could not verify when the LCS investigation began.

A multi-page document obtained by TR list various allegations that are related to Hembree’s management practices and her treatment of African-American students.

TR has made a decision at this time not to list specific allegations while the investigation is ongoing. This may change as more information becomes available.

28 Responses to "Cobb Middle School Teachers Allege Hostile Work Environment"

  1. I taught at Cobb for 30 3/4 years. I loved Cobb, but in the last few years, I was bullied by Shelly Bell and Tonja Fitzgerald. Many students were placed in High School classes that were ill prepared and not developmentally ready for the stringent curriculum. I taught it as a high school class, didn’t water it down. The last 2 years, was only given the lowest levels even though my scores showed success in those levels. Parents that wanted their children to be with their ‘friends ‘, insisted that they be put in these classes. I was blamed when they received a C or below, even though I had an open door policy 30 minutes before class time to tutor for any student or level.

  2. My child just finished his 8th grade year at Cobb. He was “out of zone” since his sister attended there too. He videoed what went on in his Science class each day on several occasions and showed me and my husband. The student were out of control, throwing paper wads at each other, screaming, cussing and disrupting the entire class. The teacher tried over and over to settle them down to no avail. I am not spreading “lies” or speaking as if I’m not aware of how things are at that school. It has been going on a long time. Fitzgerald was part of the problem and they got rid of her, thank goodness. Ms. Hembree is trying to bring order. The allegations made against another Admin employee there of racism were disproven at a meeting when the parent that did the accusing was asked to turn around and meet that Admin employees child….an African American child she had adopted. That alone shows she is NOT racist. The parent is angry because as someone above said, the children being sent back to their own “zoned” school are being sent because of bad behavior, often violent and very disruptive to the learning process. I have personally seen a video where one child was jumped in the boys locker room and knocked unconscious by another boy that was much bigger. That child had to see an oral surgeon to fix his mouth. It is unconscionable what is going on at Cobb. Ms. Hembree needs more than 1-2 school years to sort things out.

  3. Good morning all,

    Can someone please check with the Florida Department of Education I think I have ascertained the motivation behind the removal of students from Cobb Middle School. From what I’ve learned the students that count towards school grades must be in an October student count and a February student count also they must be present during the first day of testing. So if Ms Hembree exited students who she believed or new would score level 1 or 2 on the state test she is actually increasing what the school grade is based on for lower quartile and learning games. This is similar to what Shelly Bell did at Godby High School when she put all students into advanced placement US history so they did not have to take the state test. She artificially inflated her school grade which also please me to believe that this school reap rewards with an increase school grade which was done in a way that borderlines on school grade inflation which could be an ethics violation.

  4. I attended Cobb Middle School in the early 90’s. My parents purchased a home in that zone. The students back then we’re much more well behaved, and respected authority. This sense of entitlement is definately getting out of hand.

  5. 3 of my kids attended Cobb. Cobb has never been the same since Shelly Bell moved on. Shelly knew how to address bullying and keep order like no other Cobb principal since. Fitzgerald was MIA most of the time – delegating all her duties to Mike Holmes, who, quite frankly, does not have the “pair” he needs in order to address most problems at Cobb. How he he was named VP of the year I will never figure out. After Shelly’s departure, multiple daily fights between the savages at Cobb became the norm – so much so that they beefed up the teachers in addition to an SRO during lunch time – and none of the students were allowed to leave the cafeteria. Bars and gates were added around the school to keep the savages off of campus before and after school hours. My middle child attended Cobb as a magnet student 6th through 8th grades. My youngest only attended 6th grade at Cobb before I transferred her OUT. A couple of teachers sent me emails and messages asking why. One confessed she was ready to leave Cobb because problems with administration at Cobb had deteriorated so much. That was in the summer of 2017.

  6. It is really too bad that there are people jumping to making this about Hanna. Isn’t this is Ms. Hembree’s first year as principal. If she is trying to change the way of work (in a school where only 57% of its sixth graders got a 3 or better on the 2018 FSA in math (59% in language arts) (8th graders 45/63% presumably having spent three years), then some may not like it. I am a parent who was impressed by her work at Leon High School: I saw no evidence there that she had made decisions on anything other than merit. If she is trying to help her students learn and hold them accountable for doing so, then we ought to be supporting her.

    (I recognize that there have been times in various Leon County Schools when it sure looked like principals were trying to get rid of all students they thought might bring down their school’s test results and using any reason to do that. It appears to be a problem around the country. I think there should be a ban against sending any struggling student away from any school between the end of school in December and completion of the testing, or at least some way to track these situations for this potential abuse of power.)

  7. Wow it makes no difference if you are a Rocky lover, a Jackie lover, a hater or a casual observer.
    This just got interesting with the teachers at Cobb picking up a lot of dookey and hurling it into the fan.
    Good reporting Steve!

  8. There are two sides to every story and we’ve only heard one side so far.

    I am interested in the facts and not jumping to conclusions. Let’s be patient.

  9. I hope everyone on this list understands what school CHOICE means. It means you live out of zone for that school you attend.

    Follow the receipts – the students who were reassigned were, for example, getting into FIGHTS at school – some three or four times in a semester period.

    It was those students who were relocated. Someone tell me I’m wrong, because I am not.

    I love how people comment on something they have no idea the inner workings of, and shame on you TALLAHASSEE REPORTS for twisting info for a headline.

    In the meantime I hope Ms Hembree sues whomever has brought these allegations against her… I’ll bet there are just as many teachers at Cobb who are glad there is finally an admin willing to make sure teachers are doing their job. It just made a few others loud and angry.

    1. Anonymous, assuming you are a district employee giving out private and likely false student information on a message board means you should be fired immediately. I hope the mom who spoke at the school board finds out who you are and gets a lawyer and sues you for defamation. This is exactly why parents don’t speak up.

      1. Maybe the principal is protecting students from students who are troublemakers and cause problems to the other students who wants to learn and are well-behaved.

        Maybe the principal and Rocky are protecting the Integrity of the process and the students from students and parents who fail to take accountability for their actions that cause harm to other students.

        I am not an administrative employee so you can’t sue me.

        1. Hope, maybe you are right. I never assumed you to be an employee spreading false information, but rather someone from the community expressing an opinion which is the purpose of a message board. The parent at the school board meeting specifically cited absenteeism as the reason for the revocation, not behavior. Not sure how this became a discussion about getting rid of troublemakers since that was never the issue. But that’s how they want to change the conversation to deflect from the real issue. Just watch – they will go after this parent and her child, make her child out to be the problem, paint her as an incompetent parent and then draw on and exploit subtle chauvinism and racism that exists in our community. My personal opinion is that these administrators act with bigotry and against the interest of the children they are charged with caring for and educating. II base that opinion on my observations and personal experience. I respect your comments and position. Let’s see how this plays out and follow up six months from now.

          1. Those are pretty strong accusations and I hope you have the facts to back up what you say.

            I will let the facts come in and the process play out before I would even think of crying racism and bigotry.

        2. Hope those aren’t accusations, they are opinions and predictions based on my personal knowledge of facts of past behavior. What facts do you want to see? Happy to share.

    2. If students were getting into fights it makes a person wonder where was the school administration during transition times? If students were getting into fights doesn’t the school have a school wide positive behavior process to teach and reinforce students how to behave? The issues that Tallahassee Reports has brought forward in these articles shed light on a pattern in Leon County Schools since Mr Hanna has been superintendent.

      During the process that Mr Hanna started with his innuendo filled notebook the Tallahassee Democrat printed over 50 articles on the notebook which was the debunked by the US attorney and the school board attorney Hank Coxe. Now that Tallahassee Reports sheds light on the reign of error of Rocky Hanna containing actual information from the school district why is it that you assume this information is incorrect?

    3. There is no way to know the students history. It’s alleged that close to two dozen students were denied school choice to return to Cobb next year. That is a lot of students to have behavior problems or attendance problems, however I recognize it is possible. I have two children who currently attend Cobb and one who did so previously (BTW we are white). I’ve personally had two unsavory interactions with this principal. I don’t say that they were unsavory because I didn’t get my way (actually both issues turned out in my favor despite her efforts). I say that because she was rude, insulting, and insensitive (this was not in regards to my child having a behavior problem). My children who attend Cobb now say they’ve seen a big change in behavior problems from the last two years to this year. They feel the former principal Mrs. Fitzjerald had a good relationship with the students and they respected her. I imagine this is the same case with the teachers. If she interacts with them the same way she did with me, then I totally understand their complaint. Obviously Anonymous, you know Mrs. Hembree and have a positive relationship with her. It’s noble to stand up for her but we all need to see what the result of the investigation is.

  10. You have to wonder who this Mark character is. Is his real name Jackie? Or perhaps a bitter teacher from Cobb MS? Hmm…

    1. Bobby Blackstone,
      My name is Mark, I am a forensic scientist. When we moved here I was immediately made aware of the politics of the local school system. As a scientist, I follow the evidence, I have no affiliation with the current or former Superintendent. I follow the evidence, a wrong has been perpetrated by Rocky Hanna to several members of the community. If you have an issue or take issue with the facts that are shared, I await the corrections from you. When a person has committed the ethical violations that Rocky has to be silent after what has been uncovered is an endorsement of the behavior. Stand up for what is right is what I was taught.

  11. Add to the mix is the fact that an unruly student who is assigned to a school ‘out of zone’ can be returned to their ‘zoned’ school if they fail to behave.

  12. Great, my name is also Mark.
    The way my luck has been going everyone will think I wrote the stuff above and I’ll be put on a hit list.

  13. The strangest thing about the saga at Cobb Middle School is that the state testing window starts tomorrow. The chaos that was caused by Rocky’s ineffective leadership has thrown a school into chaos on the eve of the state assessment. We can all hold our beliefs and opinions on the state assessment however, we all have to come to grips that on the eve of a very important day Rocky Hanna continues to lead by chaos.

    I am bewildered as to why the school board refuses to admonish an elected superintendent. I am at a loss as to how the situation got to the point that it got to before Rocky Hanna would act. Mr. Hanna’s past and current leadership shows that he hopes things go away so he does not have to deal with them, then when he does deal them he doesn’t know how to.

    Here we have a group of teachers that now want to hold the principal accountable for creating a work environment that is hostile. I’m sure Rocky and Sarah will respond by trying to bully teachers. Isn’t it ironic that Rocky has a “hit list”and it appears that Sarah has a “hit list”as well. I’m sure the teachers at Cobb question not only Miss Hembree’s leadership but that of Mr Hanna as they watch as assistant superintendents make over $100,000 each while the diligent and carrying teachers of Cobb Middle School are the 46th lowest paid out of 64 counties in the state of Florida. Thanks Rocky 20th from the bottom, that’s your leadership.

      1. As a student that goes to this school I haven’t really witnessed much of her being racist , so I don’t know where I stand right now

  14. Perhaps, Mark.
    But absentee parenting and a socialist/progressive curriculum play a part in this too, I’m betting.
    I spent an afternoon once at Cobb to speak in a class for a career day decades ago. It was a zoo – out-of-control students. I said I’d never do that again. But I did, in my elementary school way up north. Those third-graders behaved MUCH better than the Cobb teens.

  15. This situation or saga at Cobb Middle illustrates the perpetual problems from a lack of leadership in Leon County Schools.

    We already know that Rocky Hanna’s word cannot be trusted from ethical violations related to falsifying information submitted to state and federal authorities in his notebook, to not paying child support for 10 years while “stating at graduation ceremonies having no children of my own you are my children” The man is unfit for the position he holds. His lack of leadership and integrity is being emulated by Miss Hembree. It is evident that Miss Hembree has the goods on Rocky Hana and she probably spoke to Rocky and told him if she goes down he goes down.

    To the teachers at Cobb Middle School I’m sorry you have been put in this situation due to a lack of leadership on the part of the individuals that developed leaders in Leon County schools and the current superintendent. Can someone ask for a visitation log to see how often Alan Cox visited the school?

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