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Tensions in mediation over black students in Pinellas



How quickly things can sour. Just a few months after last summer's much-touted settlement over black student achievement in Pinellas, negotiations over the next piece in the district's long-running desegregation case -- student discipline -- apparently took a hard turn for the worse.

In a Dec. 16 email obtained by the Gradebook, attorney Enrique Escarraz, who represents the plaintiffs in Bradley vs. the Pinellas County School Board, tells mediator Peter J. Grilli that School Board attorney Jim Robinson is a "rogue" attorney who "seems to have his own agenda, bolstered apparently by some politicians on the board."

"His interest that he promotes seems to be his own career," Escarraz writes. "No problem if he also includes helping these children, but that does not appear to be on his plate."

Escarraz's remarks are something of a shocker, considering the optimism that followed announcement of last summer's memorandum of understanding between the district and the plaintiffs. Engineered by superintendent Julie Janssen, that agreement addressed student achievement, which was considered to be the thorniest of several outstanding, Bradley-related issues involving black students. The parties are now negotiating to address disparities in discipline rates between black and white students.

"The superintendent shows genuine interest in the same goals as we do, and a genuine willingness to listen and incorporate some of our ideas into her plan," Escarraz also writes. "However, it appears to us that none of the attorneys are representing her or the interest of the children."

Escarraz did not return a call for comment yesterday. Robinson said the e-mail was confidential and stopped the Gradebook as it began to read some of Escarraz's charges. "I don't want to hear any more and I can't," he said. "I can't go there."

Both parties met with Grilli shortly before winter break. Robinson said progress was being made.

The next mediation session is at 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at district headquarters. It's open to the public.


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:46am]


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