DNA law fails civil rights test | June 19, editorial
A valuable tool in fighting crime
Your editorial regarding the new Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA database legislation failed to provide the public with a full picture.
This initiative, once funded, will expand Florida's DNA database to include samples from persons arrested for felonies. The process is no different from the way Florida already stores and handles fingerprints from arrests. Like the current law on fingerprints, the DNA legislation has provisions for removal of the file when a person arrested for a felony meets certain requirements.
The database in its current form has been a great investment for our citizens; every month it generates an astounding 230 hits. These hits match an unknown DNA sample left at a crime scene to a known felon whose DNA is already on file, or links two or more unsolved crimes. It's an invaluable investigative tool.
Including felony arrests means more samples in the DNA database and more crimes solved. It also means crimes will be solved faster and, most important, crimes will be prevented. Taking DNA at the first felony arrest ensures that DNA is taken from those offenders who evade felony conviction time and time again. It ensures that DNA from the first felony will be matched to that offender's next crime, halting further victimization and saving lives.
Florida becomes the 21st state to take samples from felony arrestees. There is no other tool that can prevent violent crimes as efficiently and effectively as this. The Legislature got it right. Our citizens expect this level of protection. I think they deserve it.
Gerald Bailey, commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee
Fingerprinting has become an invaluable tool in solving all types of crime internationally. It often takes place when people seek employment, licenses, undergo background checks or when they are arrested. Regardless of whether a person is found guilty, after an arrest these fingerprints are held in local, state and federal databases.
If you have not committed or don't intend to commit a crime, then your fingerprints or subsequent DNA will not be a problem. Only those who have will have an issue with it.
I feel that it's time for DNA collection. Such collection, searching and storage should follow the similar guidelines in place for fingerprinting. Imagine the number of "cold" cases that could be solved, and the number of criminals who could easily be identified and taken off the streets by utilizing this important piece of technology.
Larry Bracken, Tampa
Gibbs' task: Erase an F | June 20, story
Discipline is required for schools to succeed
As a Pinellas County teacher for many years, I can tell you that discipline, respect from students, and keeping them under control are key to an educational environment conducive to learning.
Principals and teachers can be exemplary, they can be the best on this planet and utilize all the positive strategies they've learned in dealing with students, but if students are not willing to learn, they will not learn no matter what means educators put into place.
Parents must take control over their children and become involved in their education or this trend of failure will continue. John Long, a business teacher at Gibbs High, stated that kids are controlling the school. "They don't care if they get suspended or not. Someone needs to come up with consequences that will affect them," he says.
Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen says that "more bodies" will be placed in the classrooms at Gibbs. If a child makes up his or her mind to resist learning, additional bodies in the form of teachers and staff developers will make no difference. Perhaps those bodies should be the parents of these habitual offenders in the classroom. Perhaps if we "disrupt" the lives of these parents by requesting this, much of this disruptive behavior may diminish.
L. Taylor, St. Petersburg
Gibbs' task: Erase an F | June 20, story
Learning must be valued
Testing our students has produced very little reliable information about why and how children learn. The testing has not improved student learning, nor has it improved students' future employment opportunities. Testing certainly has not improved our economy.
However, the high-stakes testing has consistently and unambiguously confirmed the critical role parents play in the education of their children. Some school districts have completely changed the staff (including custodians and food service workers) of "failing" schools, but to no avail. Schools that draw children from supportive parents score high. Schools that draw from nonsupportive parents score low.
School boards, principals, teachers, counselors and aides cannot force students to learn. Learning is a first person singular activity. Only those children who have been raised to value learning will learn.
I suggest that Ray Tampa, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, and those who truly want to raise Gibbs' grade have the courage to take on those parents who do not support learning. Blaming the School Board and/or staff is a cop-out.
Jim Bailey, Clearwater
I teach high school, specifically the FCAT classes to help students who have failed one or multiple times to pass the required test. I can tell you the most likely reason for the lack of success with these students: They don't come to school and their parents don't monitor or ensure attendance.
Typically, a third of the students in any given class are absent. The system allows them to show up whenever and to get all their make-up work regardless of whether the absence is excused or not.
Most parents I call are not aware of the absences but react more annoyed than grateful for the information. I have had comments like, "Do you do this to everyone?" or "Is this a class he really needs anyway?"
Until students are held accountable for their absences, I don't see how teachers can be held accountable for the results.
Virginia Oliva, Largo
School grades plummet | June 19, story
Put teaching above testing
I attended public school in a Florida school system, well before the current educational "craze" for testing — FCAT, SAT, etc. I was accepted into one of the top universities in the United States. I have taught in both public and private schools and suggest that perhaps school performance would show real improvement if our school system went from "testing" to "teaching."
John B. Kelley, Clearwater