Poor review for Marianna's Dozier School for Boys
Report notes various other problems at the school that serves Northeast Florida
By Jim Schoettler Story updated at 10:16 AM on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009
Breakdowns in security and inadequate medical treatment for students at a troubled high-risk reform school in
Marianna are among the many criticisms leveled against the state-run facility in an annual assessment of the
The report, known as a quality assurance review, describes chaotic conditions at the Dozier School for Boys,
including reports of gang fights, students being allowed by staff to punish other youths and a lack of medical
attention for the ill. A majority of youth surveys reviewed for the assessment said students didn't feel safe because of
threats from other youths and staff.
At least nine students were hospitalized in the past six months because of brawls at the school, the report said. The
review, done in October, indicated that several staff members were caught sleeping or falsifying logs used to check
on youths. Seven have either resigned, been fired or face termination.
"The program's internal youth survey showed an alarming number of youth that felt supervision was lacking," the
A series of other problems range from a lack of record keeping to poorly trained staff. Officials of the Department of
Juvenile Justice, which runs the school, have six months to make improvements before another review is done.
Slightly less than a third of the school's students are from Northeast Florida. The school, which has 135 beds, is
about 90 miles west of Tallahassee.
The assessment was done by a team that included Juvenile Justice officials and administrators from other juvenile
programs. Among five areas reviewed, the assessors gave the school failing grades in health care services and
security and safety.
The school received an overall failing grade in its worst review in recent memory. Allegations of abuse at the school
have been periodically reported since it opened in 1900. The school serves juveniles ages 13 to 21.
The annual assessment follows the Dec. 17 decision by the school's superintendent, Mary Zahasky, to step down
after a quarterly performance review in which her management and leadership skills were criticized. Among the
problems indicated in the evaluation were "significant safety and security issues" that were not addressed.
Zahasky was on leave and couldn't be reached for comment. But in her written response to the evaluation, she said
she was stepping down because she felt the juvenile justice agency "lost faith in me." Juvenile Justice spokesman
Frank Penela said Zahasky will be assigned another job within the agency.
Darryl Olson, assistant secretary for residential services for the agency, applauded the thoroughness of the annual
review. He said a series of improvements has been made and plans are in place for other changes.
Olson said a new nursing supervisor and a full-time physician have been hired. He said measures are being taken to
ensure gang violence is kept in check and that students feel safe in the program, including the use of electronic
surveillance to monitor youths throughout the facility.
Olson said a team of officials from other youth programs across the state will be brought to the school to recommend
and help make further changes that can be sustained.
"I certainly can understand why the public does not have confidence in what's been happening up there to date,"
The report follows a recent call from some state representatives of the NAACP that the school be closed because of
concerns over student treatment. Penela said there are no intentions of doing so. A state representative who'd
previously expressed concern about the school said he also sees no immediate need for it to be closed.
"We need to fix it ... swiftly," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
The Times-Union published a series of stories earlier this year about Dozier's past, including numerous accounts of
abuse by former students known as the "White House Boys."
Many of those students still live in the Jacksonville area and are part of a pending lawsuit against the state and a
former school employee over allegations of abuse.
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JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union
A report, known as a quality assurance review, describes chaotic conditions at the Dozier
School for Boys, including reports of gang fights, students being allowed by staff to punish
other youths and a lack of medical attention for the ill.