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Hundreds of Pinellas students stay home Tuesday as police search for cop killer

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly 1,400 Pinellas students stayed home Tuesday as police searched for a cop killer, while 600 of their peers were smoothly transferred to other schools.

"I think our families took the advice" to stay safe, said Tijuana Baker, principal of Campbell Park Elementary, one of three schools that were closed while police searched neighborhoods immediately south of downtown St. Petersburg. If the students "were walkers and had no other way to get to school, the safe thing to do was stay home."

District officials decided about 4:30 a.m. to shut down Campbell Park Elementary, Melrose Elementary and John Hopkins Middle. Bus stops for those students were suspended if they fell within a 130-block perimeter police set up for a manhunt.

Campbell Park students were sent to Fairmount Park Elementary. Melrose students went to Perkins Elementary. Hopkins students went to Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle.

About 260 of 1,000 Hopkins students, 200 of 625 Campbell Park students and 148 of 375 Melrose students showed up.

"They did the right thing" by closing the schools, said Rachel Benjamin, after dropping off her Melrose third-grader at Perkins. "If he killed a cop … I'm not taking any chances."

Students return to their assigned schools today.

Tuesday, at their school-for-a-day, the displaced elementary students were eased by grade level into other classes, while their teachers co-taught with their hosts. In one class, a Perkins teacher went over the day's academic schedule with her new group. Do good, she told them, and we'll have time for a multiplication game.

"Yeahhh!" cheered kids from both schools.

By late morning, teachers, principals and district officials were taking a deep breath over a potentially thorny relocation that was engineered in a matter of hours overnight.

"We wanted to keep it calm," said Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen.

At Thurgood Marshall, Hopkins students were allotted nearly an entire wing. Marshall students went to classes like normal. Hopkins students studied for the FCAT.

Hopkins principal Barry Brown said he didn't have much time to talk to students, but "they were in good spirits."

At Perkins, staffers greeted students and teachers from Melrose at 7:30 a.m.

"It'll work. We always make things work," said Sandra Rosado, fifth-grade Spanish teacher at Perkins. She was carrying candy treat bags she planned to give her students as part of a presentation.

But what about the Melrose students? "I have extra," she said, holding up a big bag of M&Ms. "You always have a Plan B."

Ron Matus can be reached at or (727) 893-8873.

Closing schools

A look at the decision to close three schools Tuesday from associate superintendent Michael Bessette. Some times are approximate:

12:20 a.m.: St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon calls the district's police chief, who calls Bessette and a regional superintendent.

1 a.m.: Bessette calls superintendent Julie Janssen and later starts to execute the district's emergency operations plan.

2:30 a.m.: Bessette calls transportation director to discuss where buses can go.

3 a.m.: Bessette calls food service director to make sure host schools have enough supplies to feed twice as many kids.

3:30 a.m.: District officials start calling principals.

4:30 a.m.: Bessette tells Janssen the manhunt perimeter remains intact. "I said, 'We don't have a real choice,' " he said. "She said, 'Okay, do it.' "

5:43-6:07 a.m.: Schools begin notifying parents.

Hundreds of Pinellas students stay home Tuesday as police search for cop killer 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 10:52pm]
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