ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas school district and the parents of John Hopkins Middle School students "must stand together and deliver the clear message" that unruly behavior won't be tolerated, superintendent Julie Janssen said in a message to parents Thursday.
The letter followed a Tuesday story in the St. Petersburg Times that described chaotic disruptions at the school this year, including frequent brawls and the arrest of more than 60 students.
"Let me say that it is imperative that we do everything in our power to maintain an environment where teachers can teach and students can learn," Janssen wrote in a letter that was given to students to take home.
The superintendent said she has instructed administrators to "be more visible at all times in targeted areas of the campus" and noted a new behavior specialist will be joining the staff. She said she and deputy superintendent Jim Madden will meet with the school advisory council next week to "update you on where we will be going from here."
The letter did not note a School Board directive — issued with urgency Tuesday — that the district immediately find ways to more quickly remove chronically disruptive students from Hopkins and other schools.
"It should have been mentioned," said board member Linda Lerner.
Meanwhile, police had another busy day at the St. Petersburg school, arresting one student for fighting and another for knocking down a cafeteria worker.
They also beefed up their presence, sending five officers to the school on Thursday, up from the previous two.
"The main reason the officers are there is to ensure the safety of the students," said police spokesman George Katjsa.
The five officers will be at the school again on Friday, the spokesman said, especially during lunch, when the school has had the most trouble with unruly students. Whether those officers will be there next week will be decided later.
A second officer was added to John Hopkins three weeks ago because there were so many violent incidents, police said, that the school resource officer didn't have time to perform his other duties there.
Three incidents marred Thursday's school day, according to police:
• In the most serious one, a 12-year-old boy demanded more juice from a cafeteria worker during lunch. The worker told the student they were out of juice. The boy got upset and shoved a gate, knocking the staff member to the ground. The boy was arrested on a felony charge of battery on a School Board employee and taken to juvenile detention.
• Three boys taunted another, trying to goad him into a fight. The boy walked away but the other three followed him. An officer interceded and the three boys were disciplined and sent home by administrators.
• Two boys got into a shouting match, then a food fight in the cafeteria. The brawl spilled out into the courtyard, where officers broke it up by using pepper spray. One boy was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct, but because he had a medical reaction to the pepper spray, police allowed him to be taken off campus by his mother for treatment. The other boy was disciplined by the school.