TAMPA — Judging by expulsion numbers, Hillsborough County's public schools are either getting safer or better at dealing with behavior problems.
A total of 628 students were recommended for expulsion or transfer in the last school year, according to the latest report to the School Board. That's down from 638 in 2010-2011 and shows a steady decline from 930 in 2007-2008.
"I think it's that principals are more sensitive to the need to keep students in school, where they will receive instruction," said Lewis Brinson, assistant superintendent for administration.
"Teachers are becoming more tolerant and more proactive."
Rates of expulsion cases varied greatly from school to school.
Greco and McLane led the middle schools with 27, followed by Eisenhower with 22 and Adams with 20, while some schools listed one or none at all.
Boys were three times more likely than girls to face expulsion or a transfer recommendation, according to the report. African-American students were disproportionately represented — a fact flagged by School Board members Susan Valdes and Doretha Edgecomb during a recent School Board meeting.
Chamberlain had the most cases among the high schools this year, as it did last year, with 20. Armwood was a close second with 17. The greatest number of cases — 49 — involved drugs and, as in the middle schools, males outnumbered females nearly three to one.
Only three children were recommended for expulsion or change of placement in the district's elementary schools.
As in years past, an assortment of weapons were used in these incidents.
In addition to seven gun cases and the 40 involving knives, there were incidents involving BB guns, brass knuckles, Tasers, stun guns and box cutters.
Only a fraction of these students — 14 — were actually expelled, according to the report, although some have cases that are still pending due to missed hearings.
The most common resolution was a transfer to another school. In fact, for the 133 in exceptional student education, a transfer was the only solution.
Edgecomb and Valdes, concerned about the preponderance of black male students in expulsion hearings, wondered if the district should take a closer look at that population.
Valdes suggested finding effective motivational speakers, while Edgecomb wondered if the schools need to pinpoint which students need extra study time.
Brinson, speaking after the meeting, was hesitant to generalize, as schools and communities vary.
"We need to ask ourselves, if it is an issue at the school site, in the neighborhood, or if the teacher needs some form of mentorship," he said.
"We need to look at each child in each school, and then look for patterns."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.