As a broadcaster and writer, I always encourage my audience to focus on improving their local community rather than fixating on endless drama out of DC. So it disturbs me to discover some serious questions parents are asking in my native Polk County’s School District, one of the largest in Florida and the nation with over 110,000 students and a 2 billion dollar budget.
In June, newly-hired Polk Superintendent Fred Heid hired Lindsay Sharp to be the Senior Director of Digital Learning and Innovation. Both Heid and Sharp are named in an ongoing lawsuit in Illinois alleging misconduct in the hiring and supervision practices of criminally convicted serial child rapist Carlos Bedoya, who worked for the school district as a para-teacher, soccer coach, and substitute teacher.
Prior to joining Polk, Heid was the superintendent for Community Unit District 300 in Kane County, outside of Chicago, Illinois. There he hired Lindsay Sharp to be the principal of Golfview Elementary School from 2016 to 2018. Previously, Sharp and Heid had worked together in Duval County schools where Sharp served as a principal during Heid’s tenure as chief academic officer.
In 2021, Carlos Bedoya, 67, was given a 66 year sentence as a plea deal for 12 accounts of aggravated sexual abuse against 12 Golfview elementary students ranging from kindergarten to third grade from August 2015 to June 2017. This is in addition to a 112 year sentence he received in 2019 for heinous abuse of another child at the school. Lawsuits against District 300 naming Sharp and Heid allege “instead of removing Bedoya’s access to children, District 300 and/or Sharp reassigned children who complained of Bedoya’s inappropriate behaviors to other classes at the school.”
According to a 2018 Chicago Tribune report, then-superintendent Heid disputed several of the suit’s allegations about Sharp’s Golfview elementary school ignoring and/or moving students after receiving complaints about Bedoya’s behavior, saying, “This allegation is unsubstantiated… We have no record of any reported instances of misconduct or allegations that the employee was acting inappropriately.”
According to another Tribune report, Superintendent Heid told district staff Bedoya was under investigation for child assaults on June 20, 2017. In a July 7, 2017 notice, the school district informed Bedoya, “[there was] reasonable assurance that District 300 shall retain you as a substitute on an as-needed basis for the 2017-2018 school year.” Why would Superintendent Heid and principal Sharp allow such a notice to be sent to Bedoya?
Bedoya was first arrested on July 18, 2017 for molesting a 6 year old boy at Golfview elementary. Sharp maintained her role as principal of Golfview Elementary School until June 2018, a week after the first lawsuit against her and the school district was filed. Sharp was moved to an administrative role at the central district office under Heid with a 2800 USD increase in salary.
The lawsuits allege Bedoya had many red flags as an employee with access to children including lacking a valid ID. They also allege that then-principal Sharp did not administer a proper background check of Bedoya.
Both Sharp and Heid have refused to comment on the ongoing lawsuits against them that accuse them of “willful and wanton” hiring and supervision practices over convicted serial child abuser Carlos Bedoya. Yet serious questions remain for Polk Schools. Why did superintendent Heid hire Lindsay Sharp to be the Senior Director of Digital Learning and Innovation for Polk knowing there are ongoing lawsuits against her for her role as principal of Golfview Elementary during the multiple years of assaults on students? In a nationwide search, is that really the best candidate Heid could find to direct the online learning of the children of Polk County?
Has the Polk County School Board looked into the Bedoya criminal cases and lawsuits against Heid’s former district and Sharp? The board is elected by the taxpayers of Polk County to hire individuals of the highest integrity and competence for the job of educating their children. A Google search for the words “Lindsay Sharp Polk” generates a Chicago Tribune story about the lawsuits against Sharp as the second listed link. It does not take a seasoned sleuth to find this story. Did anyone at the school board take the time to look it up? If not, why not? Is it not their job to protect the interests of the people of Polk County and their children?
The matter begs further questions. Was the board aware of Heid’s involvement in this ongoing lawsuit when they were conducting their hiring process? Do not the allegations of the ongoing lawsuits merit consideration in the hiring of Heid for superintendent of Polk schools? Good stewards of basic educational safety should be above reproach. Surely an ongoing lawsuit by several families making such serious allegations would be disqualifying for the role of Superintendent of Polk County Schools. Even if the lawsuits are eventually dismissed, the mere suspicion of negligence or incompetence in management of school officials involving horrific serial crimes against children seems to be a risk too audacious to consider. Given recent superintendent scandals that have beleaguered the hard-working students, teachers, and staff of Polk schools, where is the Board’s discernment?
Where is the leadership at the Polk County School Board? It seems completely disrespectful and contemptuous of the taxpayers for the Board to have hired Heid with these unanswered legal questions around him. It shows a further dereliction of duty for the board to have allowed Heid to then hire Sharp to oversee the digital education of children with these questions surrounding her hiring and supervision practices.
Broader themes remain. How can we expect our children to get a safe, quality education from massive bureaucracies that seem to care more about protecting their own than making the best choices for their captured customers? It is nice that bureaucrats like Heid and Sharp get to work with each other across three different school districts, but are their customers’ interests paramount? What incentives do school systems have to provide the highest quality and safety when their customers do not have the option to opt out of funding them? To what extent have students and teachers been pushed aside to service unaccountable bureaucrats?
Bureaucracies do not like scrutiny. Education monopolies hate competition. We cannot afford to indulge them. As a Polk graduate and taxpayer, I want answers.