PBC school board member responds to 'bullying' allegations

Elementary school principal makes accusations

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - There was strong support and even a petition on behalf of South Olive Elementary School Principal Hank Smith brought to a Palm Beach County School Board meeting Wednesday. There was also some strong words for - and from - school board member Jennifer Prior Brown.

In the middle of an ongoing internal investigation and in the middle of a meeting, Brown felt it was time to speak up about recent allegations supporters of Smith had leveled against her. 

"You have every right to try to get the bottom of what's going on," said Brown.

Brown broke her silence to her supporters - and detractors.  Tough talking teachers and passionate parents like Kenny Pope, spoke on behalf of Smith.

"He supports the teachers and the teachers support him, wholeheartedly," said Pope. Most in attendance were in support for Smith. "It came from the heart. That's how much I care. My kids have blossomed there," he said.

Smith recently threatened to resign at the end of the year because of one person - Brown. He is still on the job but says Brown - whose twins attend South Olive - is a 'bully'. He claims that Brown read internal e-mails, intimidated teachers and threatened his supervisors.

Brown would not comment on specifics of the allegations - at least not yet. 

"I do intend to respond to their attempt to create some kind of a campaign against me fueled by very obvious political motivation," she said.

From the boardroom to the school yard, it has been an emotionally-charged discussion. 

"I want them to work it out," said Christy Janssen, who has two children at South Olive Elementary. "I want her to stop and him to be happy again and I want our school to thrive," she said.

Both sides want to know what is really happening between Smith and Brown. 

"She's also a parent and I find it very important that parents know they have the right to defend, to seek investigations," said Brown supporter Diane Hanfman.

South Olive parents speaking to the board - and also on the board - all seem to want the same thing in the end.  "Show your support for your children's school," said Brown. "It is a great school."

Brown has been advised by attorneys and human resources officials not to discuss details of this investigation. 

NewsChannel 5 reached out to Smith for comment as well.  He sent an email Thursday morning:

"As you know I did not attend the meeting. I have been directed by the Chief of Human Resources not to comment. Please understand that my focus has always been and always will be on the boys and girls of South Olive and I'll leave the politics to the other adults. I seek to do my job as principal and be accountable for academic achievement."

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