Award-winning Broward educator files suit with EEOC against Lee County School District to defend her civil rights and protect her health
By K. Chandler
Part I of III)
How do you go from being an award-winning educator with 25 years of exemplary service, a Sunday school teacher and an advocate for underserved students, with four college degrees, to living in an absolute nightmare, being attacked by educators and called an alcoholic after becoming ill at work?
Dr. Deedara Hicks said she was unprepared for the harassment, racism and discrimination that occurred in her native state of Florida, specifically within the Lee County School District.
She recalled being warned over and over again to leave, by whites, Blacks and Hispanics in Lee County, many of whom made it clear that she would never survive in a position of authority in the school system, especially advocating for equity for Black and Hispanic students.
How could educating students in the 21st century, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, still require her to defend helping the underserved student?
That is the question that continues to haunt Dr. Hicks to this very day, and which prompted her to fight for her Civil Rights and seek recompense for damages to her health and reputation, and more importantly, help others going through similar situations.
Dr. Hicks undergoes Gastric Bypass surgery
To fully understand the magnitude of the situation, one must go back to July 29, 2003. That is when Dr. Hicks, principal at Broward Estates Elementary School, underwent Gastric Bypass surgery to improve her health and livelihood as she was a single parent raising a young daughter at the time.
In May of 2004, complications set in and emergency surgery was performed on Dr. Hicks. The emergency operation did not stop Dr. Hicks from keeping a promise, however, that she made to her students at Broward Estates if they read at least 50,000 books.
Upholding that promise, three days after undergoing surgery, she left the hospital to kiss a pig the following morning in front of her students and the community. One year later, Broward Estates Elementary earned its first A and 100 percent Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Dr. Hicks attributes this success to having one of the best teaching staffs in the USA who overcame every challenge presented to them, even becoming trailblazers of several district pilot programs and initiatives.
Well known throughout the country, Dr. Hicks’ schools were the pioneers for two acclaimed Broward County Schools’ digital learning programs that paved the way for schools throughout the county to receive one-to-one laptops in addition to parents receiving desktop computers for their children to use at home.
In 2007, she left Broward Estates Elementary and was soon after promoted to district director, where her team led the charge in developing the blueprint for Broward Schools “One Voice Plan,” an educational initiative designed to build upon, or model, the successes achieved through other school programs that have already been proven successful.
In addition to collaborating with the state in the Reading First program, traveling the country and working with principals to become literacy leaders, she also served on the FCAT bias committee, which ultimately sparked an interest in accountability and assessment.
Relocating to Central Florida
Although Dr. Hicks was at the height of her career as a Broward Schools professional development director, while also earning an FAU doctorate degree in leadership, the death of two close relatives, along with her mother’s terminal illness, prompted her to rethink priorities and quietly relocate to Central Florida in July 2007, accepting a $30,000 pay reduction.
Appointed principal of the school she attended from first-sixth grade in the 1970’s, she met her goal as a principal within one year when her Title I school, Woodward Avenue Elementary earned an A rating and 100 percent AYP for the first time. Adding icing on the cake, the school was featured on NBC Nightly News, and became the focal point of a Japanese documentary on a single gender classroom study being conducted by Stetson University.
Dr. Hicks’ involvement with the single gender classroom study led to an Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) visit to her school in Deland. A few months later she was invited to join the OCPS team, supporting principals and their staff with Florida’s new Differentiated Accountability (DA) Model, which combined Florida school grades, the federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, and AYP.
At the pinnacle of her career, tragedy struck with the death of her husband at age 49. Soon after, Dr. Hicks’ hypertension, stomach issues and asthma flared up again, this time with a vengeance.
In May of 2011, Dr. Hicks underwent two additional surgeries due to complications from the original Gastric Bypass surgery performed in 2003. Subsequently, she underwent a major scare as she now suffered from swollen feet, hypertension and dumping. [Dumping refers to bouts of nausea, dizziness, sweating, heart palpitations, blackouts and severe headaches.] There were days when she says she would just cry from all the pain.
The Gastric Bypass, Roux En Y procedure she had in 2003 is no longer administered in the same manner, due to the complications she and many others suffered. Since gastric bypass patients’ body absorbs food and drinks six times faster than the normal person, she worked with medical experts to learn the triggers and treatments, however, getting a handle on the blackouts, continued to elude her. Compounding the problem was the ignorance of others concerning her health issues, including persons in the medical industry.
Through it all, she continued her career in education, managing to overcome the challenges set before her. What she was not prepared for would occur a few months later.