Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

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.

Comments
A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

The young man in a white jail jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, looked past the throng of reporters pointing microphones toward his face, barely opening his mouth as he answered questions."I shot through the door," he said, looking at a female repor...
Updated: 11 hours ago
After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

TAMPA — Confronted in late 2017 with reports of misconduct by substitute teachers hired through a contractor, Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins said he would ask tough questions and demand answers. He had his lawyer, Jeff Gibson, ...
Published: 04/21/18
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Published: 04/20/18
Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE — A gunman who carried a shotgun in a guitar case opened fire Friday in a Florida high school, wounding one student before he was arrested on a day planned for a national classroom walkout to protest gun violence, authorities said. It...
Published: 04/20/18
Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is preparing to reorganize his cabinet — for the third time since 2015 — in an effort to coordinate programs at the district’s highest-needs schools.In an interview this week, Eakins descr...
Published: 04/20/18
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways. In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall f...
Published: 04/20/18
Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Hooper: A tribute to my Godby High School instructors

Every time I see an algebraic formula, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Landreth and Mrs. McBee flash through my mind.If you say history, I say Mr. Groot and Mrs. Melton. If you say civics, I say Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Hunt.I type using the "home keys" because Mrs....
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teacher aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer p...
Published: 04/18/18