UPDATE: UCP West Orange Charter School principal resigned, was not reassigned

Although UCP originally told Orange Observer Tom Brickel was reassigned to a different role within the school, the school stated today that he resigned from the pressure of his responsibilities.

Photo courtesy of UCP
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UCP West Orange Charter School has stated that former principal Tom Brickel resigned from his position due to the pressure of his job responsibilities, a statement that differs from what the school told Orange Observer less than a month ago.

In an emailed statement to Orange Observer on Wednesday, March 8, Dr. Ilene E. Wilkins, president and CEO of UCP of Central Florida, stated: "We've had a few conversations with Mr. Brickel over the last several months about the demands of any school principal position and both agreed now is a good time for him to be reassigned to a different role within UCP."

However, on Thursday, March 23, Wilkins then told Orange Observer: "Mr. Brickel has other opportunities as we know he would as a great teacher and finished his administrative project work with UCP. He decided Friday, March 17, would be his last day. He is not longer employed by UCP."

Parents who attend the virtual Town Hall meeting hosted by the school on Tuesday, March 28, were told a different story. 

"Mr. Brickel did resign a couple weeks ago," Wilkins said at that meeting. "He was not terminated. He had no misconduct. He had made a choice. Again, the principal job is very, very hard. ... They have many masters, and they are trying to run a school. They're trying to make parents happy, they're trying to make administration happy, and then they also have a lot of compliance requirements that they have no choice about. … Mr. Brickel had been here for a number of years and had just gotten more than he was able to handle."

Wilkins said Brickel stayed on with UCP for a couple of weeks to work on some transition projects, but he has now moved on to another opportunity. 

UCP officials stated they have had interviews with some potential principals and will be bringing their top candidate to the campus this week to meet some of the teachers, as well as the campus leadership staff. 

The school first hosted a Parent Town Hall meeting Thursday, March 9, led by COO Ken Jacobs and Wilkins, to address updates on Brickel, as well as to discuss an incident that took place at the school Tuesday, March 2. 

"I wanted to make you all aware of what transpired today at campus," Brickel wrote in a message to parents the day of the incident. "In one of our upper grades, a student brought an art kit to school. This art kit contained charcoal pencils and a charcoal pencil sharpener. The student showed some peers the pencils and the sharpener. Staff saw the sharpener and immediately confiscated it."

The message went on to say the school conducted a discipline investigation and consulted with Orange County Public Schools to determine if a violation of the student code of conduct occurred. 

UCP also said it contacted the Winter Garden Police Department, which came to campus to conduct a safety check.  

Scott Allen, captain of the patrol division for the WGPD, said the safety check was one of the scheduled checks that the department is required to do by state law, and was not related to the incident. 

The report was filed as involving a "box cutter."

"I am being told that the item was an exacto-knife that came with an art kit, and the purpose was for sharpening the pencils," Allen said. "It is an information report as no one provided statements that there were any threats with the cutter."

Wilkins spoke about the incident to parents on the virtual meeting, saying there have been several misconceptions of the events that transpired.

"He was very excited about his new art kit, so he brought it to school, but also in that art kit had a pencil sharpener with an exposed sharp tip," she said. "He took that art kit out during class, and he started using it to cut paper."

Wilkins said at no time did the student threaten anyone, and a staff member took the sharpener away without a fight. 

She said as a discipline offense, the student had repercussions based on the OCPS code of conduct, which UCP follows. 

"The other thing that is taken into account is a child's disability and if what happened had anything to do with their disability; different discipline can happen," she said. 

Other updates in the Town Hall meeting included discussion on facilities.

UCP said the school has some security cameras inside the building, some of which were broken and are being reordered, and the security officer at the front has access to all the screens. The school also is in the process of allowing access to the front desk reception. However, there are no cameras in the classrooms. 

Since the first Town Hall meeting, UCP said it has met with the city of Winter Garden about installing additional school safety signage, although exact locations have not yet been determined, as well as additional fencing for the school. The request for fencing would have to be submitted as a variance and approved by the Planning & Zoning Board. 

UCP also said the city is considering the addition of speed cushions at several locations. The city has confirmed it would consider trying the speed cushions along Palm Crossing. However, none of the details have yet been finalized. 

UCP is a community of tuition-free charter schools with eight campuses across Central Florida.

Its vision is to "create fully inclusive learning communities where we provide a comprehensive and well-rounded education through unique experiences and individualized instruction," according to the organization's website.

UCP celebrated the grand opening of the new UCP Healthy West Orange Campus in September 2021.

This campus serves Winter Garden, Ocoee, Windermere, Gotha and the surrounding communities.

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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