Draft legal agreement addresses black student discipline in Pinellas
Both sides in Pinellas' long-running school desegregation case have reached a draft agreement over how to better deal with black student discipline.
Supporters hope this memorandum of understanding will compel the district to chip away at behaviors and practices that have led the district to suspend black students at far higher rates than students of any other race. (Last year, for example, black students, who make up 19 percent of the student body, were responsible for 46 percent of the out-of-school suspensions.)
They also say the memorandum, if approved by the School Board, will lead the district to coordinate more uniform arrest policies among different law enforcement agencies who oversee school resource officers.
“It’s a different day. It’s no more just throwing the handcuffs on,” community activist Watson Haynes, who works closely with the plaintiffs in Bradley vs. the Pinellas County School Board, told the Gradebook. With this agreement, principals and school resource officers will be “thinking about options, and utilizing those options.”
Like a similar agreement hammered out last summer over black student achievement, the seven-page draft doesn’t offer many specifics, and includes efforts already under way, such as the "response to intervention" strategies mandated by the state. Many details will be left to individual schools as they craft schoolwide behavior plans. But both sides nonetheless say it will force the district to put more focus on discipline and hold specific individuals accountable for results.
"Training will increase. There will be increased self-assessment," said School Board attorney Jim Robinson. "I believe there will be improvement across the board as a result of what has taken place at the mediation table."
Both sides also said the blow-up at John Hopkins Middle School in early March added a sense or urgency to the mediation sessions and prompted a quicker resolution. "That gave us an example, and an impetus to say we need to do something about this," Haynes said.