Principal to be transferred as emails reveal security concerns at SFMHS

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – The principal at a Lee County high school embattled with a sex scandal is being transferred to a different school, according to Lee County school board documents.

The announcement of her transfer comes with news that the staff at South Fort Myers High School had requested improved security months before a 15-year-old girl was discovered having sex with a number of boys in a bathroom.

As early as Oct. 6 Assistant Principal Samone Mitchell aired her concerns about whether halls, stairwells and bathrooms were monitored enough during after school hours in emails obtained by the News-Press through a public records request. The email read in part:

“There are way too many unsupervised students after school. We need more supervision throughout the halls and in the stairwells. If you are not supervising the ISS room, to walk the halls/stairs/bathrooms more often. Tutors, sponsors, coaches are required to supervise students at all times until transportation arrives. Students are required to be in their assigned location by 1:45. No exceptions.”

The incident involving South Fort Myers High school student happened months later on May 17. It quickly gained international attention even as district officials desperately tried to guard information.

Three days later on May 20, Principal Melissa Layner emailed students’ parents to ensure them that the campus was safe “providing students cooperate with the expectations articulated to them each day.”

But before that, on May 19, the mother of the girl involved, emailed Layner twice. In her first email, she announced that she would not press charges in an email she addressed to the male students involved, in which she called the sex on school property “a mutual decision:”

“This could have been you sister, your cousins, or your future daughters.
I am not taking legal action because I understand it was a mutual decision. However, the video
is considered child pornography and can cause you guys lots of trouble.”

In the mother’s second email to Layner, she presses for answers about the school’s security.

“If this went on for 50 minutes and cameras saw all this activity were was school staff or security? I am sure they would have seen all the people in and out? Was it the girls restroom or boys? I thought it was the boys restroom?”

A little over a week passed when on May 25 Director of Athletics Don Payne sent out an email asking for the removal of unsupervised students and that exterior doors be locked after classes end. His email suggests that South Fort Myers High School was still working to secure its campus after school. It reads in part:

“SUBJ: The improvement document I gave you this morning
After school policy doc
pretty much: supervision at all times
– exterior doors to the building will be closed and secured by 1:45 pm every day
– security staff will sweep the building and remove any student who is not with a coach or sponsor”

The October email resurfaced when it was forwarded to Principal Melissa Layner more than a week after the May 17 incident and day after Payne’s email.

Layner will be the new principal at Bonita Springs Middle Center for the Arts starting in fall 2016. According to a multiple officials, Layner requested a transfer months ago. The principal said her job was becoming stressful and mentioned her young children all before the bathroom incident.

Lee County School District Superintendent Gregory Adkins said he will recommend Ed Mathews, Assistant Principal at East Lee County High School, to replace Layner. Adkins admits that South Fort Myers High School failed to follow up on communication about protocol.

He has called for the creation of a safety and security task force, which will be responsible for standardizing protocol throughout the district.

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