Lee High Leadership Class Shake-Up Prompts Public Outcry Before School Board

Aug 1, 2017

Students in Jacksonville’s Lee High leadership EVAC class met with State Attorney Melissa Nelson in March.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

A couple dozen people came to Tuesday’s Duval County School Board meeting concerned that a highly regarded Lee High School leadership class called the “EVAC Movement” might be canceled or implemented differently next year.


Duval Superintendent Patricia Willis started the meeting by saying she wanted to set the record straight. She said neither the district nor school principal canceled the class.

“Lee High School will be offering this leadership class to both young men and young women, and it will include the EVAC movement programming during the 2017-2018 school year,” she said.

That’s after teacher and class founder Amy Donofrio recently said on Facebook the class is over.

EVAC — “cave” spelled backward — refers to the idea of students’ coming out of darkness into light. The class received national recognition and praise from city leaders for its work addressing juvenile justice policy. For the past past few years, the class of about 15 boys — once considered at-risk — have used their stories to change minds.

Lee High Principal Scott Schneider says it’s likely to look different, by enrolling more students and becoming co-ed. It also might be taught by someone other than Donofrio.

Class mentor Pastor Jay Harris of The Ville Church said Donofrio was given the option to give up a planning period to teach it.

Schneider said he also discussed with her integrating the program into her other classes and introducing it to all of her students. He also said he discussed after-school options with her and hopes she’ll continuing leading the class.

But a handful of people on Tuesday spoke in support of the class’s current format.

Rebekah Mino, who knows the boys and Donofrio from church, works with low-income parents in danger of having their kids removed from the home. She said she knows how hard it is to build trust for kids who experience trauma.

“My fear is that the lack of relationship that a new teacher may have is just going to severely impact the impact of the program and what it can have, especially with so many of these boys being at a critical point in their academic careers,” Mino said.

Many of the boys in the previous class are embarking on their senior year at Lee High. A few graduated last year.

Donofrio told WJCT she doesn’t want to comment on the situation.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.