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Parents doubt Pinellas Park Middle School's claim to reduce chaos

George Hannon sits with his mom, Carol Ann Hannon, at their home. He’s now at a charter school after incidents at Pinellas Park Middle.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

George Hannon sits with his mom, Carol Ann Hannon, at their home. He’s now at a charter school after incidents at Pinellas Park Middle.

In September, two eighth-graders at Pinellas Park Middle jumped Carol Ann Hannon's sixth-grade son, George, in the bathroom, where they choked him, put soap in his hair and tried to put his head in the toilet.

In December, other kids tried to knock him down in the hallway, ruining a new $75 jacket, Hannon said.

And about a month ago, students who were skipping ran into his class, prompting a substitute teacher to ask him to press a button to alert administrators. When he did, they threatened to thump him.

After all that, Hannon had this to say to Pinellas school district officials who insist things are improving:

"Better now? No way," said Hannon, 41, who transferred George to a charter school in February after lodging numerous complaints with the school and district. "They're sweeping it under the rug."

A Feb. 17 St. Petersburg Times story noted police had made 50 arrests at Pinellas Park Middle and parents were making unflattering comparisons to John Hopkins Middle, the St. Petersburg school roiled by rampant fights and arrests last year.

District officials said most of the arrests happened early in the school year. They said the school has a new police officer and new administrators.

They also pointed to new programs, including a "Success Academy" that includes "civility training" for problem students and mandatory workshops for their parents.

"We've experienced a great measure of success with academics and behavior," principal Robyn Witcher said last week.

Since the story, some observers said, Witcher has been more visible on campus, which in turn has cut down on unruly behavior during class changes.

"I invite any parents to come to the school," she said. "A lot of the issue is that there's not as much parent involvement as their needs to be."

But other parents interviewed shortly after the Times story reiterated Hannon's concerns that things are still problematic.

Michelle Stahlgren said her daughter, a seventh-grader, tells her about so many brawls it has become a routine topic for conversation. She said it was different when her son attended the school a few years ago.

"It's a middle school — you're going to have issues — but not like this school," she said. "You tell people your kid goes to Pinellas Park Middle and they go, 'Oh, we're sorry.' "

Candy Cleary, whose daughter is also a seventh-grader, reeled off several incidents in the past two months.

In one, according to her daughter, 50 to 100 kids rushed into bathrooms and classrooms to get away from a fight. In another, a parent told her his son texted him from a bathroom, where he was hiding from kids who wanted to beat him up. The father said he rushed to campus and got his son out just in time.

A few weeks ago, Cleary said, several students at the school tossed water balloons filled with paint and urine.

"It's not better," she said. "I want something better for my daughter."

Hannon said for her son's sake, she couldn't wait. The last straw: Somebody threw his Powerade on the floor while he was waiting in the lunch line.

She said she told an assistant principal, "I'm done."

Times staff writer Sabrina Rocco contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Parents doubt Pinellas Park Middle School's claim to reduce chaos 03/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 12:25pm]
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