Pinellas School Board candidates invited to pledge support at FAST assembly tonight
All four Pinellas County School Board candidates have been invited to stand with a faith-based group pushing a bill to curb arrests among children.
Faith and Action for Strength Together, or FAST, has invited the candidates to a St. Petersburg assembly -- one of 10 held around the state -- to pledge to eliminate out-of-school suspensions, reduce unnecessary arrests and support effective reading curriculum in high-poverty schools.
The assembly will begin at 7 p.m. at Holy Family Catholic Church, 200 78th Ave NE. Another FAST assembly will take place at the same time in Temple Terrace at Corpus Christie Catholic Church, 9715 North 56th St.
Three out of the four School Board candidates on the Nov. 8 general election ballot have RSVP'd and sent in short questionnaires that will be printed on pamphlets handed out at the St. Petersburg assembly. They are District 1 At-Large candidates Matt Stewart and Joanne Lentino and District 5 candidate Eliseo Santana.
FAST confirmed that District 5 candidate and incumbent Carol Cook will not be attending. The group said she didn't send in her questionnaire either.
Johnny Watson, FAST's education committee co-chair, said Cook pledged at an April event to make a policy change that would be against arresting kids and has since failed to follow through.
Reached Monday, Cook said she had another appointment Monday night and never received a questionnaire, but did answer two FAST questions about her willingness to work with FAST and her availability for a March event.
"We don't arrest kids. It's the police," she said. "We have no say whether or not we're going to arrest them."
A statement from the Southern Poverty Law Center contradicts Cook's sentiment, citing state law that says school resource officers shall abide by school district policies, and that SRO's are "akin to a school official" rather than a police officer.
Area superintendents in January reported that arrests had taken a 44.8 percent dive from 2012 to the end of the 2014-15 school year.
The candidates attending will not be put on the spot at the assembly but will have a chance to speak about their platform relating to FAST's key issues.