Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Challenged by Challenge School Incident
Principal choked after school security eliminated

Principal Deborah Hill
Principal Deborah Hill told the Observer, "I saw that she [the parent] was out of control... I told her she needed to defuse... She went out to her car. I'm assuming she called her lawyer..." About ten minutes passed. A student said, "Here she comes again – round two." The parent had left her car and was heading toward Principal Hill's office. A heated conversation ensues. The staff calls 911...

Late Sunday, the Observer learned that the State Attorney will call for the arrest of Principals Hill's alleged assailant.

The unannounced elimination of two school resource officers from Sheriff Mark Hunter's Budget is in great measure responsible for the following story.


According to Superintendent of School, Mike Milliken, this school year began with the elimination of two School Resource Officers (SROs). He said, "They were eliminated in the last budget because of budget cuts."

The Observer: "My understanding is there was an SRO in the Challenge School last year. I am trying to find out why the SRO was removed from the Challenge School."

Supt. Milliken: "It was one of the budget cuts... The cost to the Sheriff's Office has gone up. He was having to cut his budget. We had to cut ours."

The Observer asked who paid for the SRO in the Challenge School.

Supt Milliken: "No matter what school they're in, the costs are shared by the School District and the Sheriff's Office.

Councilman Jake Hill told the Observer that early last week that he had spoken with Supt. Milliken to see if he could get security at the Challenge School.

Councilman Hill said, "I said - look here -- I'm on that committee out there and they don't have any security at the Challenge School. They took two of our officers from us."

Councilman Hill said he told the Superintendent, "All the students that don't work out at the High School, you send them to Challenge School where you have no security."

The Observer shared with the Superintendent that everyone he had spoken with thought that the security needs of the Challenge School are of a higher threshold than those of a middle school or high school.

Supt. Milliken: "Truthfully, we wanted to see how the year had gone - we've had conversations - and we have a meeting set up here within the week, with both the Chief and the Sheriff, to see what the three organizations can do - and if it means pulling someone from somewhere else - then that maybe that's what it means."

The Incident

Councilman Hill: "My understanding is they were expecting the parent to come to the school. The woman had an incident in Fort White [High School] the day before."

The Observer: "When your wife [Principal Deborah Hill] knew that this woman was coming to the Challenge School, why didn't they call the Sheriff or the Lake City Police Department?"

Councilman Hill: "I was out there that morning. There was a deputy out there. They told the Deputy that they were expecting that this particular parent was going to come out there. So the deputy hung out there for a while. Then he said, I've got to go. So shortly after he leaves, the woman shows up."

Principal Deborah Hill: "I saw that she [the parent] was out of control... I told her she needed to defuse... She went out to her car. I'm assuming she called her lawyer..." About ten minutes passed. A student said, "Here she comes again – round two."

The parent had left her car and was heading toward Principal Hill's office. A heated conversation ensues. The staff calls 911...

After some back and forth talk Principal Hill said the parent pushed her way into her office, flung her phone and grabbed her around her neck. Principal Hill said at that point she grabbed the parent's neck. Principal Hill said out of the corner of her eye, she saw the son coming.

Principal Hill: "I thought he was coming to defend his mom. He said, 'oh no - no- no, I'm just trying to get her back in the car.' The child made an adult decision to get his mom back before she got hurt."

It appears that a tussle continued to the railing outside of the office. Then the parent then went to her car, which was parked in the school lot in close proximity to the principal's office.

The Lake City Police Arrive

One of Lake City's rookie police officers responded to the 911 call. According to folks on the scene, he was really nervous and locked his keys in his car and had to call for reinforcements to get them out. In spite of being a green horn and being a little shaky, the officer did what police are supposed to do when they do not eye-witness an incident – investigate.

Police Chief Gilmore broke away from a meeting on Thursday evening to speak with the Observer.

The Observer: "There has been a lot of talk about this incident. One concern is that the woman that was involved with the principal wasn't removed from the school property."

Chief Gilmore: "We may have been able to do better. I have to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. The State Attorney is going to look into this."

The Observer: "Do you think there should be security at the school?"

Chief Gilmore: "I pledged to the Superintendent that I would look into it. We need higher visibility."

The Alternative School

Columbia County's Alternative School is called the Challenge Learning Center.

The Observer asked Principal Hill: "For many that go here, isn't this the end of the line? My understanding is, when a student can't make it in the regular schools, they are shipped to the Challenge school. Isn't this the district's most challenged school?

Things left unspoken
The Observer has also discovered through conversations under the condition of anonymity, that some students are directed to the Challenge School.

If the District wants to get rid of a kid – the District directs him there, with the Challenge School becoming an intake for the kids they want out.

It is also well know in the inner circles that if the District determines that a parent is a trouble maker – the child can be earmarked for the Challenge School.

Principal Hill:  "This is it. If a child is released from Juvenile Detention their next stop is the Challenge School. They have to stop here first to show that they can get along. They have to come here for one grading period to show me that they can transition back. If they have behavior problems – they are sent here."

Principal Hill explained that the Challenge School is really like two schools in one and also has a program for children with advanced disabilities and behavioral disorders such as ADHA, schizophrenia and bipolar.

The Observer: "Once a child is in the Challenge School – can they get out?"

Principal Hill: "Once they get here – it is almost impossible for them to leave."


Over the past week, tempers have cooled, investigations have been completed and all the concerned parties have weighed in,  both on and off the record, with one exception.

Sheriff Mark Hunter, who was too busy to  answer any questions about the incident and the elimination from the Sheriff's $12,000,000 budget of two SROs. Had those positions not been eliminated, it is clear you would not be reading this story.

Everybody else weighed in.

Superintendent Milliken was articulate in all his answers and didn't skirt any of the issues.

The Observers conversation with the Superintendent ended this way:

The Observer: "My understanding is that in the past it's always been a law enforcement officer that was the security officer at the challenge school."

Supt. Milliken: "Yes sir."

The Observer: "And this year because of budget cuts, that law enforcement officer was removed from the Challenge School?"

Supt. Milliken: "At the time we made the best decision we could about serving the needs of all the children of Columbia County."

One county employee, who spoke to the Observer under the condition of anonymity, said about the enraged parent, "She could have gone to her car and come back with a gun."

Last Thursday afternoon Principal Deborah Hill said about the incident at her Challenge School: "This especially sets a bad example for my teaches, who have to deal with this on a daily basis. We have to have things in place it to protect them. At this point my teachers don't feel like they're being valued as educators. We deal on a daily basis with challenged children - children that have shown that they don't have a respect for authority at all."

Late Sunday evening the Observer learned, unofficially, that State Attorney Skip Jarvis is calling for the arrest of the parent that grabbed Deborah Hill by the throat.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On October 26, 2010  R.B. from Lake City wrote:

     In the society we live in, there is no guaranty of anyone's personal security. Whether it be Principal Hill, teachers, or students, we all take a risk when we walk out our doors each day. Even with a school resource officer at the school, the chances of him being in the right place at the right time to stop this incident are slim to none.

     If Councilman Hill is concerned for security, why didn't he have the City furnish an officer for the school? I mean, why is only the county responsible for security? Isn't the city capable and responsible providing security. That is just like the EMS services, the city thinks they have no responsibility for providing service to city residents.

     Mr. Lilker, I have read all your articles and it is very evident you have a terrible grudge with the county. You are always slamming the county and praising the city, no matter what the circumstances are. Well, none of us are perfect in what we do, but none of us are wrong in everything we do either.

     Your opinions should not be biased in any way. In fact, your opinions should not be included. You should only report the news.¶ R.B.


On November 1, 2010 Bob Long of Lake City wrote:

As a rule, I don't believe in SRO's (school resource officers).  From Kindergarten to College graduation I never saw a police officer at any of the schools I attended and none was ever needed.

However, having worked as a teacher at some alternative schools and programs, I know that in this era they are a necessity in some schools.  In Alachua County I was aware of rapists in schools and even bank robbers being returned to regular high school a day or two after the robbery.

It was an inexcusable lapse in judgment to not have, at a minimum, 1 SRO in place at the Challenge Center.

Shame on Principal Hill for letting Superintendent Millikin get away with it.

Just from the nature of the students alone, forget about the parents, that school shouldn't be allowed to operate without an SRO in place.¶ RCL

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