Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough School Board takes on discipline of minorities

TAMPA — The students who gathered for interviews at Middleton High School on a Saturday included some tough kids and some not-so-tough, all African-American and male.

Their answers surprised the panel of Hillsborough County school district officials, as well as School Board member Doretha Edgecomb, who attended the event. More than a third had positive role models. Half described strong parental support.

And those who didn't have either said the most important people in their lives were teachers.

"That perhaps puts a burden on the teachers, but it also says that kids really look up to those who teach," Edgecomb said during a board workshop Tuesday. "If teachers don't know how valued they are, I think this is an indication, and kids said it themselves."

District officials, led by assistant superintendent Lewis Brinson, are studying an issue that is commonly recognized across the nation: The disproportionate number of student discipline cases that involve African-American males.

Black students account for 21 percent of Hillsborough's population. But of all discipline incidents in 2011-12, 44 percent involved black students. And two-thirds involved males.

When in-school suspensions were measured, 40 percent involved blacks. And male students were almost twice as likely to be suspended as females.

Across the board, no matter how the data was analyzed, black male students were represented more heavily than their white or Hispanic counterparts.

"We have children that are being excluded from school, which results in loss of instructional time," Brinson said. "This is not something that anyone is proud of."

And, according to one graphic measuring middle school students who are transferred out of their schools over conduct issues, the gap is widening over time.

Everyone around the table — including the principals of several high schools — agreed the issue requires more study and will not be fixed easily.

There were, however, some suggestions, and lessons learned in the research.

Brinson said the vast majority of discipline cases involve nonviolent offenses, such as tardiness, skipping class, disobedience and the catch-all, "inappropriate behavior."

That means teachers and administrators often have latitude. They might correct the behavior. Or, instead of an out-of-school suspension, they can suspend the student in-school. "They're still not in front of their teacher," Brinson said. "But it's better than being out of school on suspension."

Edgecomb said, "we have to be more aggressive about recruiting male teachers in our schools, and especially men of color."

She and others on the board agreed the district should place a greater emphasis on relationships between students and teachers, which must be established ahead of the emphasis on academics.

School Board member Candy Olson said the issue needs a lot more study, even if the district needs to hire a consultant. "A lot of our students who come to school don't even know what inappropriate behavior is," she said. "We can't even agree on it."

Nor are teachers trained to teach behavior, as they teach math or reading, she said. "Our whole behavioral side is not written until you get in trouble, and you get punished for it."

For now, Brinson wants all principals to examine their discipline data, look for trends and update their school discipline plans frequently.

And the group agreed to hold more workshops. "This can't be a one-time conversation," Edgecomb said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or

Hillsborough School Board takes on discipline of minorities 04/30/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 11:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Plan your weekend Aug. 18-20: Elvis in concert, Jason Aldean, Monster Jam Triple Threat, Sing-Along Grease


    Plan your weekend

    The king

    Elvis: Live in Concert: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and Ruth Eckerd Hall will have a Graceland-produced Elvis concert on a movie screen, accompanied by a full live orchestra. Graceland calls it the closest audiences …

    Handout photos of Elvis: Live in Concert, a tour spectacle featuring a live orchestra backing the voice of Elvis Presley, projected onto a movie screen. The tour comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on 8/18/17. Credit: Graceland.
  2. Woman convicted in murder of 18-year-old with cerebral palsy gets lighter term


    TAMPA — Linda Bonck, a 90-pound Chamberlain High School senior with cerebral palsy, lived near Tampa's Lowry Park. She struggled to walk and talk but was known for being friendly and trusting of strangers until she vanished one day in 1992.

    Georgia Miller, 39, was convicted for the 1992 murder of Linda Bonck, an 18-year-old Chamberlain High School student who had cerebral palsy. Originally sentenced to life in prison, Miller was resentenced Wednesday to 65 years, the result of U.S. and Florida Supreme Court decisions that found it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life. With gain time, Miller will be released from prison in the next six years. [Florida Department of Corrections]
  3. Boynton Beach woman arrested on DUI, child abuse charges


    A Boynton Beach woman was arrested Saturday and faces DUI and child abuse charges after she blew a .200 on a breath test with an unbuckled child in the backseat, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

    Brandy Lerma, 31 of Boynton Beach, was arrested on DUI and child abuse charges on Saturday. [Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Editorial: Why can't Hillsborough commissioners move Confederate monument?


    The violence in Charlottesville, Va., crystallized for much of the nation the danger of refusing to address painful symbols of the past. But not so in Hillsborough County, where the County Commission on Wednesday reversed itself yet again and left open the possibility of leaving a Confederate monument outside the …

  5. Former WTSP employee sues station's parent companies for gender discrimination


    A former director at WTSP-Ch. 10 has sued the station's parent companies, claiming she was the victim of gender discrimination.