Saturday, January 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Schools' rules on volunteers need flexibility

Parental involvement is an important factor in student success. But the Pinellas County School District's policy that bans parents with minor or years-old criminal convictions from volunteering at schools is too strict and drives away too many families who want to be more involved in their children's education. The School Board should revisit its policy and clear the way for more parents who have turned their lives around to serve as positive influences for their children.

The issue of background checks for parent volunteers surfaced during the recent campaigns for Pinellas County School Board. At least two candidates argued that the district's current policy displays an unfair bias against parents with a criminal past and deprives schools of volunteers they desperately need. There is broad support for the district's policy of banning people convicted of sex crimes and felony child abuse. But the district also bars volunteers who have been convicted of misdemeanors or of felony theft or economic crimes within the last five years. It also bans people convicted of selling drugs within the last 25 years or who have had other felony convictions within the last 10 years. Those rules are too arbitrary, and there should be more flexibility and discretion in the policy.

The Tampa Bay Times' Lisa Gartner reported that Lakewood Elementary lost its parent-teacher organization president during the 2008-09 school year after school officials learned she had a criminal conviction. Before then, Simona Bain had grown attendance at PTO meetings to 50 to 60 parents. But Bain had previously spent less than a year in prison for writing bad checks. She resigned from her post, a blow to the community and the school, which no longer has a parent-teacher organization. Those are the sorts of situations a revised policy should address.

Pinellas County's volunteer policy is not entirely unreasonable. But the nature of blanket policies is that someone will be unreasonably prevented from volunteering even though he or she is no threat to the students or the school. In Hillsborough County, the school district has a commonsense approach that bans volunteers convicted of sex crimes but leaves other decisions about volunteers' backgrounds to principals, who make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Pinellas schools, which had 16,000 active volunteers last school year, has an appeals process for rejected volunteers and volunteer options in place for parents without spotless records. People convicted of DUI, for example, can volunteer but are not allowed to drive students. But the district needs to do a better job of encouraging parents to volunteer and submit applications, and it needs a more flexible policy regarding criminal convictions. When parents are unreasonably shut out, everyone loses.

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18