Discipline changes back for final approval in Pinellas
The Pinellas County School Board is expected to sign off Tuesday on changes to the district's discipline policies that cut the number of days a student can be suspended out of school and end the practice of docking students' grades for absences.
The School Board agreed to the changes on first read last month; this is the second reading.
Some black leaders have been pushing for an elimination of out-of-school suspension altogether, as the Miami-Dade school system did last year. Superintendent Mike Grego said he first has to have an alternative placement for children when they misbehave.
Pinellas used to have alternative placements for children who were suspended, but cut the programs.
There were alternative behavior centers that drastically cut down on the number of black children suspended from middle schools in the mid 1980s, which were discontinued within a few years. The district also created on-campus suspension centers in the late 1990s that were praised as a national model. But the School Board would not fund one of them in full — they cost less than $100,000 apiece — and discontinued the program after outside money ran out in 2008.
In the Pinellas County school system, out-of-school suspension disproportionately affects black students.
As part of a yearlong investigative series, "Failure Factories," the Tampa Bay Times found that black students in Pinellas County are suspended out of school at four times the rate of other children — one of the widest disparities in Florida. It noted that other large school districts stopped punishing students academically for missing school because it needlessly set them back. In five years, black students in Pinellas lost a combined 45,942 school days to suspensions for minor offenses. White students, who outnumber black students 3 to 1 in Pinellas, lost 28,665 days by comparison.