As a temporary, precautionary move, interim Pinellas superintendent John Stewart ordered two additional police officers to John Hopkins Middle School Monday. But he said after a morning visit that the campus was calm and parents had nothing to worry about.
"As I viewed it, it probably wasn't necessary," Stewart said of the additional officers. "But if you make a mistake, it's better to be … on the side of caution."
Stewart's actions came after three students were charged with battering their teachers at the St. Petersburg school within a week.
The spike in violence was a flashback to problems that dogged Hopkins during the 2009-10 school year, when police made more than 100 arrests and besieged teachers begged the School Board for help.
Under principal Barry Brown, appointed by former superintendent Julie Janssen, the school seemed to make a turnaround last year. Arrests dropped to 57. Its school grade rose from C to B.
Brown downplayed the recent arrests. He told the St. Petersburg Times Friday that he didn't really have any concerns about discipline. He also said initially that there had been two arrests in the past week, only one of which was charged as a battery.
Stewart spoke with Brown at the school Monday. He said Brown indicated there was a misunderstanding in terms of the time frame involving the arrests. Stewart said he was giving Brown the benefit of the doubt.
Brown "wants nothing but the best for that school," he said. "He's trying very hard to make that come true."
But Stewart also offered advice for other principals who may be asked about the occasional flare-ups at their schools.
"Be as straightforward as you can. Give the facts on the issue," he said. "That way, you don't have to worry about anything …because the facts are the same every time you're asked, no matter how you're asked."
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.