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SRQ DAILY May 30, 2020

"The commitment to our public health systems on the federal, state and local level must be restored."

- Tom Barwin, Sarasota City Manager

[The Detail]  DJ Deserves Better
Cathy Antunes, cathycantunes@gmail.com

DJ was eight years old then, an African-American boy with an average IQ, diagnosed with ADHD and another learning disability. In the space of a week in the spring of 2012, three meetings were held by Sarasota school staff, in the absence of DJ’s mother. As a result of those meetings, DJ’s school instruction changed from a standard curriculum with accommodations for his learning disabilities, to a curriculum called “Access Points” designed for students with severe cognitive impairment. DJ remained in the improper “Access Points” curriculum for roughly seven years, with devastating consequences."

Access Points was designed for students who are not expected to be able to read beyond a second grade level, or live independently. Neither applied to DJ. DJ’s classroom didn’t change, his teacher didn’t change — just his curriculum. His mother didn’t give permission for, nor was she notified of the change. She was notified that her son “will now be on alternative assessments” (meaning DJ wouldn’t be taking the FCAT). Was this swift curriculum change, devoid of his mother’s input, a tactic to exempt special needs students from taking the FCAT and pulling down the district’s test scores? It’s an important question. Taking a closer look at the Access Points program, Exceptional Student Education Program specialist Victoria Stillo-Gross emailed the district’s ESE directors in November 2016, telling them there were 113 students taking Access Points classes who were not classified as intellectually disabled.

Sarasota County school district recognized their ongoing mistake when DJ was in eighth grade, but DJ’s mother didn’t learn exactly how Sarasota County school district ruined her son’s education until he was in 10th grade. That’s when DJ’s case was brought to the attention of two local special education advocates, Susan Memminger and Susan Magers. They uncovered the malfeasance and are assisting DJ’s mother in suing Sarasota County for restorative educational services. Memminger and Magers say in their twenty years of advocacy for special needs students they’ve never seen anything like this.

DJ is 17 now, and the School Board continues to fail him. Last October, Judge Diane Cleavinger ordered that DJ be provided an appropriate education in a private school, in addition to 6.5 years of compensatory education and services, including intensive tutoring and mental health counseling. When Memminger and Magers met with school officials last November to create a plan for DJ, school officials were unprepared to follow the judge’s order and communicated their intention to appeal. On December 10, the School Board voted 4-1 to appeal DJ’s case. In March, Judge Cleavinger ruled once again that Sarasota County school district”s Exceptional Student Education department continues to violate the law. Memminger and Magers say the School Board still isn’t providing services and is pursuing more appeals.

The emotional impact on DJ has been devastating. After being a straight A student in the inappropriately simple curriculum, the school district moved him to a standard curriculum at Riverview High School without any extra help. He was quickly overwhelmed, confused and could not keep up with the work. He became the target of bullies and threatened to commit suicide in 2018.

It is unfathomable that the Sarasota County School Board fails to own and correct their egregious mishandling of DJ’s education. Is the School Board running down the clock, waiting until DJ is 18, to negotiate a settlement when DJ may be more persuadable as a legal adult with limited understanding? A limitation the School Board bears responsibility for? Whatever their reasoning, the Sarasota School Board’s actions here are reprehensible, and there’s reason to believe other children have been negatively impacted too. Elections are coming. We need a School Board that will do the right thing.

Cathy Antunes is host of “The Detail.” 

[City]  A Post-Pandemic Priority
Tom Barwin, Thomas.Barwin@sarasotagov.com

A city is a municipal corporation, and a very public entity. Unlike private corporations, our mission is not to make profits. Our customers and stockholders are basically everyone. Governments are scrutinized closely by the media and many others. But rather than making widgets, we run multiple operations that serve the common good.

For example, roads, water systems, wastewater systems, sanitation, public safety and parks and recreation are some examples of what we do. But when something we do requires greater expertise than we have in house, or can be done cheaper or more efficiently, like constructing a building, we hire private companies to do it. We also contract with many private businesses to support or complement many of our operations. Our main work is to provide the setting for everyone else to make things and provide the goods, services and quality of life pursuits that people desire. We prefer to do our work quietly and efficiently.

But since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan proclaimed Government was not the solution but the problem, followed by Bill Clinton declaring the era of big government was over, the role government has played in problem-solving has been diminished, and more recently, the tone of civil discourse has declined dramatically to the point I fear good people with lots to contribute are shying away from public service. While I am not advocating for larger government, government has its role. Perhaps we have forgotten that much of the technology we enjoy today emanated from governmental projects, research and taxpayer investment. Our air, water and food quality all pivot on monitoring and enforcement of safety regulations, as does the safety in our skies, on our roads and in our buildings.

I raise this because from my community building experience and perspective the anti-government pendulum may have gone too far as evidenced by our country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. As someone working for many years to keep our communities safe, strong and vibrant, while maintaining the physical and civic infrastructure for all to thrive, the COVID-19 experience has exposed the reality that the slash and burn mentality has gone too far. Specifically, the commitment to our public health systems on the federal, state and local level must be restored. Even more importantly as we move forward, in order for our communities and society to function cohesively at our best, it is now clear that every citizen must be entitled to decent, lifelong, affordable health care. Our evolving gig-oriented economy requires it, a fair society with the resources America has should now demand it.

Tom Barwin is Sarasota City Manager. Email him at Thomas.barwin@sarasotafl.gov. 

[Giving Challenge]  2020 Giving Challenge Prizes Award More than $286,000 to Local Nonprofit Organizations in Virtual Celebration

During a virtual celebration with some 450 attendees, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, alongside other foundation and media partners, awarded more than 260 prizes totaling over $286,000 to nonprofit organizations in recognition of their efforts and achievements during the 2020 Giving Challenge. Nonprofit award recipients demonstrated excellence in transforming planning, strategy, and creativity into successful campaigns through several superlative prize opportunities, such as Best Overall Campaign, Best Nonprofit Partnership, and Best Turnaround. All prize opportunities are designed to strengthen the capacity of nonprofit organizations, ensuring they have the skills and abilities to thrive.

“For months, nonprofit organizations thoughtfully developed fundraising plans, communications campaigns, and collaborative events to connect with donors and grow their involvement with causes close to their heart, and then COVID-19 uprooted all of that,” said Roxie Jerde, President and CEO of the Community Foundation. “In a matter of weeks, nonprofits bravely pivoted their strategies with no small amount of flexibility and creativity to create and executive some of the most successful campaigns we have seen in the last six challenges combined. This effort speaks volumes to our community’s desire to overcome these challenging times and move forward together with our nonprofit partners, stronger and more united than ever before.”

New prize opportunities this year included: Best All Volunteer Organization and Best Online Event, which arose out of the emerging realities of social distancing to ensure our community could remain digitally connected.

Volunteer committees made up of community leaders reviewed and judged the more than 430 applications submitted by participating nonprofit organizations to determine the final award recipients. Nonprofits were divided into three categories: Small (annual operating budgets under $60,000), Medium (annual operating budgets between $60,000 and $500,000) and Large (annual operating budgets greater than $500,000).

All prize opportunities were made available through the generosity of local foundation and media partners. The Community Foundation’s Board of Directors approved $200,000 to be awarded for this year’s prizes, with additional funding support from The Patterson Foundation, the Manatee Community Foundation, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, and the Charlotte Community Foundation. Media partners included: Harbor Style Magazine, the Herald-Tribune Media Group, iHeart Radio, Observer Media Group, Sarasota Magazine/Sagacity, SCENE Magazine, SNN TV, Solmart Media, SRQ Media, WUSF, and WWSB-TV/ABC7.

Overcoming the uncertainty of our times, the 2020 Giving Challenge raised $18.4 million in just 24 hours for 686 local nonprofit organizations serving Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties. With $10.9 million provided in community support from 58,947 donors and 106,570 total gifts, along with $7.5 million in matching funds from The Patterson Foundation, the 2020 Giving Challenge set a new standard for community generosity, outperforming the previous six challenges. In total, seven Giving Challenges have collectively provided more than $58 million in unrestricted funding since 2012. 

Click for more information.

[Recognition]  Ana Varone Awarded Seniors Real Estate Specialist Designation by National Association of Realtors®

Ana Varone, Realtor® of leading luxury Gulf Coast brokerage Michael Saunders & Company was awarded the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation. As a part of the National Association of REALTORS® family of designations, the SRES® designation is conferred to Realtors® who complete in-depth training in a wide variety of topics related to homebuyers and sellers over the age of 50, including senior housing options, reverse mortgages, downsizing and rightsizing, and using pensions, 401(k) accounts and IRAs in real estate transactions. With this achievement, Varone also is an active member of the SRES® Council, a community of real estate professionals dedicated to serving the housing needs of maturing Americans.

“Understanding how aspects of the real estate process affect different populations is key to being able to serve everyone in our community,” said Varone. “As more choose to call our area home it will become all the more important.”  Ana Varone is based out of the Michael Saunders & Company Siesta Key office at 5100 Ocean Blvd. She is available for further comment at 941.504.8083 or by email at anavarone@michaelsaunders.com. 

Click for more on the company.

[Re-Openings]  Oak & Stone Expands Hours, Menu, Delivery Services and Brings Back Sunday Brunch

Oak & Stone, a New American tavern known for its craft beer, and artisanal pizza, has recently expanded its hours throughout the week, expanded the menu and delivery services for all locations* and will bring back Sunday brunch beginning this Sunday, May 31.  

Sunday Brunch will re-start on Sunday, May 31 from 11 AM – 3 PM at all locations. The menu features four coveted delectable items including: Eggs Benny Pizza featuring sunny eggs, Canadian bacon and hollandaise; the Bourbon Barrell French Toast with thick-cut brioche, stout-infused maple syrup and candied pepper bacon; Southwest Breakfast Burrito with white cheddar scramble, candied pepper bacon, breakfast potatoes and crushed avocado and the Fresh Start with sunny eggs, crushed avocado and thick-cut brioche. The return of bottomless mimosas and bloody mary’s is also back by popular demand during Sunday Brunch hours. 

Oak & Stone has also expanded the menu to include favorite items like the philly cheesesteak eggrolls, smoky gouda mac’ n cheese, tuna poké bowl, buffalo chicken bowl, crispy gulf grouper BLT and more. Desserts have also expanded to include the key lime pie and chocolate lava cake. 

All Oak & Stone locations are following state guidelines and have opened indoor seating to 50% capacity with six-foot distancing between tables and parties no larger than 10 as well as outdoor seating with appropriate social distancing. Servers are wearing masks and Oak & Stone has developed the Touchless Tap Key for a totally touchless self-pour beer wall experience. 

Oak & Stone restaurants are available for take-out and have expanded delivery services to all locations including: BiteSquad; Door Dash and Uber Eats.   

For more info.

[Safety]  Citywide Public Health Emergency Extended Through June 5

The City of Sarasota has extended its declaration of a local citywide public health emergency through June 5 following a weekly review, as required by the City Charter, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency order issued Friday by City Manager Tom Barwin, in consultation with Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and City Attorney Robert Fournier, also extends the experimental street closures that began last weekend in order to help local restaurants and retail establishments impacted by COVID-19.

Partial street closures will be in effect from 3 pm to midnight this Friday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30, on the following downtown streets:

— 1300 block of Main Street (Palm Avenue to Mira Mar Court)
— State Street from the State Street Garage to Lemon Avenue
— Lemon Avenue from Main Street to the alley just north of State Street

The street closures are expected to be in effect each Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to midnight, possibly through June.Friday’s emergency order also strongly urges the public to wear protective masks when leaving home, including in common areas of condominium and apartment buildings, and to acquire protective masks if they have not already. 

[Safety]  Sarasota County Reminds Everyone to Prepare for Hurricane Season

As Florida enters hurricane season on June 1, residents are encouraged to take precautions for hazardous weather while keeping COVID-19 precautions in mind. Ensure disaster supply kits are complete and plans are made. Knowing the risk, getting prepared, and staying informed are vital steps everyone can take to get ready for hurricane season.

COVID-19: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and precautions related to COVID-19 should be utilized in preparations. Add cloth face masks and hand sanitizer to disaster kits. Consider an evacuation plan that allows for staying with friends or family and remember to socially distance if possible. Hurricane evacuation shelters should be a last resort. Sarasota County evacuation centers will use Florida Department of Health and CDC guidelines for screening, use of masks, social distancing and increased sanitation. 

Click to sign up for Alert Sarasota County

[Summer Camps]  FST Summer Camp Opening at the Downtown Campus, June 8

Florida Studio Theatre (FST) is pleased to announce that, starting the week of June 8, its Summer Theatre Camps for students ages 7-17 will be held in person on its downtown Sarasota campus. Led by professional theatre artists, FST’s Summer Camps give young people the opportunity to nurture their own creativity, build self-esteem, and gain emotional awareness. This summer, FST will offer two in-person camp experiences—Children’s Performing Arts Camp for students ages 7-12, and Teen Performing Arts Camp for students ages 13-17. Each in-person camp will take place over the course of three weeks. A full list of FST’s live Summer Camps can be found at floridastudiotheatre.org. 

Click for more info.

SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine. Note: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. Senior Editor Jacob Ogles edits the Saturday Perspective Edition, Letters and Guest Contributor columns.In the CocoTele department, SRQ DAILY is providing excerpts from news releases as a public service. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by SRQ DAILY. The views expressed by individuals are their own and their appearance in this section does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising and sponsored content opportunities, please contact Ashley Ryan Cannon at 941-365-7702 x211 or via email

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