Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough officials vow to cut suspensions to keep kids in school and out of jail

TAMPA — From the list of zero-tolerance offenses to the length of time kids are kept out of school, Hillsborough County students can expect dramatic changes in discipline this fall.

Chief Diversity Officer Lewis Brinson made it clear Wednesday that many of a task force's proposed reforms will be forwarded to the School Board for approval July 28.

Officials are still fine-tuning some features, based in part on Wednesday's meetings with staffers. For example: Three-day limits on suspensions for some offenses might be increased to five, so a child caught fighting on Monday cannot return to school for Friday night's football game.

But the essence of the new policy — a districtwide effort to address students' problems instead of booting them off campus — will remain.

"We're not going to take away teachers' rights to teach and we're not going to take away students' rights to learn," said Brinson, who was an assistant superintendent when he was put in charge of the project in 2013.

"But we have to be fair in how we apply consequences and exclude kids from school. Most of the students you are suspending are at-risk already."

Give students 10-day suspensions, Brinson said, and "you're just burying them."

Some changes were easy to sell to the principals, assistant principals and counselors who met Wednesday.

Brinson got some pushback when he said schools will no longer be allowed to use the vague term "inappropriate behavior," which is now one of the top offenses.

Heath Beauregard, principal of Adams Middle School, said he sometimes uses the term as a compromise when teachers push for a stronger offense that would carry a more severe punishment.

Be precise, Brinson insisted: "Don't call it something else to appease people."

The proposed changes are designed to slow the discipline process and push schools to help kids instead of suspending them. Studies show students given out-of-school suspensions often wind up in jail. In Hillsborough, as elsewhere, black students are by far affected the most often.

To interrupt that cycle, the task force suggested schools stop suspending for tardiness, another frequent offense.

Instead, schools will be asked to work with families to get at the cause of a student's problems and find a solution.

Under the proposed plan, when students are suspended, the term would typically be limited to three to five days. Schools now suspend students for up to 10 days. For that to happen, according to the new plan, schools would have to consult with an area superintendent.

In both of Wednesday's sessions, staffers said schools do not have enough counselors, psychologists and social workers to address children's problems. Superintendent Jeff Eakins is looking into that issue, and the use of guidance counselors for tasks such as testing, before he decides if he'll push to hire more.

A sticking point came when staffers considered a disclosure form students would sign when they get in trouble, attesting that they know their rights. These include the right to call a parent in before they are questioned.

Administrators said that step could cripple the process. Brinson said he will run it by attorneys before deciding if it should be included.

Either way, school leaders hope they can cut down on the criminalization of common teen behavior.

"We want to arrest kids as little as possible," said task force member Jennifer Morley. "Once they have that first arrest, there's no coming back."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.

Next steps

The School Board will meet Tuesday in a workshop to discuss the discipline plan. Superintendent Jeff Eakins plans to bring it back to the board for a vote on July 28.

Hillsborough officials vow to cut suspensions to keep kids in school and out of jail 07/15/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 9:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Former Jabil executive's fate in hands of murder trial jury


    LARGO — For a second time, Patrick Evans' future is in the hands of a jury.

    Patrick Evans talks with Allison Miller, one of his three public defenders, before jury selection this w eek. Evans, a former Jabil executive charged with killing his estranged wife and her friend almost 10 years ago, is back in court for a second trial after his original death sentence conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
  2. Hillsborough designates $17 million for Irma debris removal and repairs


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission voted Wednesday to spend $17 million from the county's Catastrophic Disaster Recovery Fund to remove debris left by Hurricane Irma and to fix damaged facilities.

  3. Five jump from burning boat near Gandy Bridge


    TAMPA — Five people jumped from a boat that caught fire near the Gandy Bridge Wednesday afternoon, 10News WTSP reported.

  4. Gourmet food fight between top chefs raises $200,000


    ST. PETERSBURG — The chefs came armed with their secret ingredients — pork rinds, truffle butter, pork bellies.

    (From left to right) Chefs Ryan Mitchell, Michael Buttacavoli, Ted Dorsey and Matthew Brennan compete during Tampa Bay Food Fight at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event features chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefitted Metropolitan Ministries. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  5. HSN star Joy Mangano promotes new book: Inventing Joy


    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than 30 years, Joy Mangano knows a thing or two about promoting products. Now she's promoting herself.

    Inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano is releasing her first new book, Inventing Joy on Nov. 7. [TIERRA SMITH | Times]