Save Boca High Debate
Save Boca High Debate
Speech and Debate is an integral aspect of Boca Raton Community High School, allowing its members to grow as individuals, as community members, and as future leaders. Like every academic, athletic, and extracurricular activity offered at Boca High, the debate program should be an extension of our school’s values. We write this petition to express the simple fact that since the reappointment of Dr. Phyllis Pacilli as coach, it is not.
Going into the 2017-2018 school year, the Boca High Speech & Debate Team underwent a significant change, in which former coach Dr. Pacilli resigned from our team. This was prompted when a series of abuses of power were brought to light to our school’s administration (detailed below); following this, Dr. Pacilli was forced off of the team. However, after the arrival of an interim coach and a notably successful year of speech and debate, these past issues have evidently been quickly forgotten as Dr. Pacilli has been reinstated as coach.
In protest of this decision, we have included an incomplete, but informative, list of actions Dr. Pacilli has done while coaching the Boca High Speech and Debate Team. Please note that upon request, all claims can be individually testified to and discussed in greater detail (including the dates) but are left concise for sake of brevity and anonymity.
Student-teacher conflicts, even among the program’s highest-performing speech and debate members, have escalated to pushing talented students off of the debate team. In the past, this has kept our program from growing and impacting the lives of more students.
- Suspending the two highest ranked Boca High Public Forum debaters of the 2016-17 school year from all national tournaments (including the Tournament of Champions, NCFLs, and NSDA Nationals) without due cause
- Permanently expelling a student and lying to HR Staff during the subsequent investigation of said expelling. Lies included purporting statements that the Principal, Dr. King, did not utter and fabricating of events to validate her side of the story. These are all accounted for in the County’s report of Dr. Pacilli.
Dr. Pacilli’s grudges against students have become so severe to the point in which she attempts to undermine their future outside of debate.
- Attempt to expel a former student from her university by telling professors and academic integrity advisors fabricated stories (i.e. cheating on the SAT)
- Attempt to alter grades on transcripts so that universities would receive failing grades
Severe irresponsibility displayed on debate trips
- When the team was stranded in Atlanta due to day-long Delta delays, Dr. Pacilli booked herself and one other student (now the team president) a flight home on another airline without notifying the other eight students, leaving the rest of the team and one chaperone in Atlanta by themselves overnight.
Dr. Pacilli has resorted to unprompted verbal abuse on multiple occasions, often times not letting up until the student was in tears.
- Use of ableist language against students of mental and physical disabilities
- Threatening to physically harm students
- Physically lashing out on students in and out of the classroom
Verbal abuse isn’t limited to students. Dr. Pacilli overtly displayed racism on debate trips, often directly addressed to members of such disenfranchised groups.
- Use of the n-word directly addressed to a woman of color overheard by another school coach and students
- Repeated racist jokes on multiple trips
- Insulting impressions of Chinese accents, making students on the team feel uncomfortable
All previously stated abuses were committed during Dr. Pacilli’s prior tenure as debate coach. However, since her first dismissal and in the week since her reappointment, her actions have stated her inability to change and desire to maintain exclusionary practices.
- As our debate team searched for a new teacher sponsor last year, Dr. Pacilli repeatedly tried to undermine our attempts to continue the program, sending potential sponsors a deceitful laundry list of obligations intended to dissuade them from coaching.
- This week, Dr. Pacilli has decided to establish debate team tryouts, verbally intending to limit the large team to fewer students. In a community that emphasizes inclusivity, this intellectually ableist action severely undermines the purpose of debate.
- The above action, coupled with her temporarily firing every appointed team officer (incentivizing them to stay silent in exchange for a position), renders each student powerless and unable to speak out against her, creating an unchecked system wherein she is only accountable to herself.
We find it especially important to speak out against this action. Although we suspect objections exist from current students, Dr. Pacilli’s environment of fear and instability has created a chilling effect among students and their families who fear retaliation. Thus, we are extending a request to a larger community to sign this position to stand against her problematic actions. Voicing your approval signals a desire to do the following:
- Bar Dr. Pacilli permanently from the Boca High Speech & Debate Team;
- Appoint a new speech and debate coach (a task that former students are willing and able to assist with); and
- Exclude Dr. Pacilli from any involvement in the transition to a new debate coach.
As fellow members of the debate community, we ask you to help us preserve the activity that we love so dearly and send a firm message to our alumni school’s administration: we will not tolerate this.
Primary Signatories (all students below were appointed by Dr. Pacilli to their respective team officer positions)
Samuel Salvati; Former Debate Team President (2017-18)
Philipp Reutter; Former Debate Team Vice President (2017-18)
Tatiana Butkevits; Former Debate Team Secretary (2016-18)
Abram Abdou; Former Lincoln Douglas Team Captain (2016-17)
Liz Falcon; Former Debate Team Historian (2015-16)
Tristan Villegas; Former Debate Team IE Captain (2015-16)