Pinellas looks to Broward for guidance on school arrests
In seeking to cut down on the number of student arrests, Pinellas is taking a page from Broward County.
School officials on Thursday discussed a collaborative agreement on school discipline that Broward's school board signed with law enforcement agencies. The emphasis is ensuring that students who commit nonviolent, minor offenses don't end up with police records.
By mid-October, 121 students had been arrested at school in Pinellas, down about 30 students in the same time period from the previous year.
About 63 percent of school arrests are for nonviolent offenses across the state, said Michael Bessette, Pinellas's director of operations. He did not immediately know the rate in Pinellas, although 20 percent of school arrests in Pinellas are for disruption. In Broward, the rate was 71 percent.
Broward's agreement defines non-violent misdemeanors as disruption, theft less than $300, vandalism of less than $1,000, disorderly conduct, trespassing, criminal mischief, gambling, loitering, harassment, alcohol incidents, marijuana posession, possession of drug paraphernalia, threats and more.
Superintendent Mike Grego said he has spoken with Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and "he is very much in favor." Pinellas wants to "more clearly delineate" what happens when a student commits an offense, so that law enforcement doesn't get involved when it isn't necessary.
"It would have to be a violent crime or a felony crime for law enforcement to step right through it," said Bessette.
He also noted that Broward has an eight-page, highly specific discipline matrix that tells school officials exactly what the response should be when a student commits each offense - for the first, second or third time. Pinellas does not have a discipline matrix, schools spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra said.
Bessette is meeting with Gualtieri and heads of municipial law enforcement agencies in January.
School board members voiced support for the district to bridge Broward's agreement into their own deadlings.
"Of course we all know what happens to children once they get those arrests on their records and what it can inhibit down the line," said board member Rene Flowers. "This really gives children opportunities rather than penalizing, then trying to draw them back."