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Marlene Sokol, Times Staff Writer

Marlene Sokol

Marlene Sokol has worked at the Times as a reporter, editor and columnist since 1988. After launching North of Tampa in 1996, she served first as its editor and later as a general assignment reporter specializing in the suburbs. She now covers education in Hillsborough County.

Phone: (813) 226-3356

Email:msokol@tampabay.com

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  1. Teacher in duct-taping incident faces School Board vote today

    K12

    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board is scheduled to vote today on whether to take formal action against a Potter Elementary School teacher who is accused of duct-taping a kindergarten student's eyes.

    Lindsay Blanc, 29, is to be suspended without pay pending termination, according to the meeting agenda. As there is a verified finding of "bizarre punishment" from the Hillsborough County sheriff's child protective investigative union, the board likely will uphold the administration's recommendation....

  2. More teachers will be let go for lack of credentials

    Blog

    Another group of teachers are up for termination at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting for failing to comply with certification requirements, and once again they were concentrated largely at high-needs schools.

    Sixteen of the 21 had been assigned to so-called Title I schools, which get federal aid because of poverty in their communities. Of the 16, six were at the poorest "renaissance" schools including three at Middleton High School. The group fired in June also included two from Middleton....

  3. ... also Tuesday

    Blog

    At least one new principal will be named at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting. Julie Hasson, the principal of Symmes Elementary School in Riverview, has resigned, and the board plans to name her replacement.

    The meeting, which we will live-tweet, could be eventful.

    The board is set to vote on the student handbook, which contains changes recommended by a task force on minority student discipline. At week's end members Melissa Snively and Doretha Edgecomb said they wanted to study the changes carefully, and Snively said she looks forward to a thoughtful discussion Tuesday -- and perhaps beyond....

    Symmes Elementary School in Riverview will get a new principal to replace Julie Hasson, who resigned.
  4. School discipline changes could come soon in Hillsborough

    K12

    By Marlene Sokol

    TAMPA — The numbers showed black students in Hills-borough County were getting suspended at roughly twice the rate of white students.

    The federal government launched an investigation. A task force was assembled with members from the teachers union, nonprofit organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Now, more than two years after the School Board held its first workshop on student discipline, the board is poised to sign off on sweeping reforms Tuesday. ...

  5. Mom: Kindergartener was "traumatized" by teacher duct taping him

    K12

    TAMPA — The kindergarteners at Potter Elementary School liked music teacher Lindsay Blanc. She was "nice," they said. She let them watch movies.

    But there was another side they described when police visited in April and interviewed 19 children.

    If you were "bad," they said, she put you in the corner. If your behavior didn't improve, she would threaten to "tape you up" with one of many rolls of colored tape she kept to section off the classroom floor....

    The Hillsborough County School Board is expected to fire Lindsay Blanc, pictured during an after-school program in 2013, at its meeting Tuesday, stemming from an allegation that she duct-taped a 5-year-old's eyes on April 21. [Times files (2013)]
  6. The discipline plan -- what stayed in, what was left out

    Blog

    A little while ago the Hillsborough school district posted the revised Student Handbook the board will vote on Tuesday.

    As the agenda reads, they are voting on the handbook, not a discipline plan. But some of the changes that have been discussed and debated for two years are contained in the book....

  7. And more about discipline, this time from a judge

    Blog

    Think the Hillsborough schools are too lenient?

    Take a trip to Circuit Judge Denise Pomponio's Wednesday drug court. 

    That's when she does intake for juveniles. "I talk to them about how long they have been using drugs, how they are doing in school, their home life and everything else," Pomponio said.

    Soon after she began this assignment about four years ago, she noticed a trend....

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Denise Pomponio, who oversees juvenile judge court, wants the school district to keep kids in school and, after their suspension, help them catch up.
  8. School district: Tampa teacher duct-taped kindergartener's eyes

    K12

    TAMPA — An elementary music teacher could lose her job next week because of an allegation that she punished a kindergarten student by putting duct tape over his eyes.

    Lindsay Blanc, 29, is accused of immorality, incompetency and misconduct in office, according to the Hillsborough County school district's office of professional standards. The School Board is set to vote Tuesday on whether to fire her....

  9. Another point of view about Hillsborough's discipline plan

    Blog

    More about the discipline plan that is coming before the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday:

    Ted Hamilton, a parent in Lutz, addressed the board recently about behavior problems in his daughter's high school. He has since moved her to another school, but here is some of what he wrote in a follow-up letter to the Tampa Bay Times and School Board member Cindy Stuart....

  10. Public defender Holt will help Hillsborough schools cut down on student suspensions and arrests

    K12

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt has joined the movement to keep children in school and out of jail.

    Appearing Tuesday at the School Board workshop on student discipline, Holt volunteered her attorneys to meet with students, train educators and arrange for advocates when a child is questioned in a case that could turn criminal.

    "The principal or the assistant principal is clearly conflicted," said Holt, who has been the county's elected public defender for 23 years and sent her own two children through public schools....

    Defender Julianne Holt said perhaps her office could help advocate for students.
  11. Hillsborough discipline plan, who likes it and what it lacks

    Blog

    Hillsborough is two meetings away from radically changing what it does when students are unruly at school.

    The first is a School Board workshop at 9 a.m. Tuesday in which they can discuss the plan but not vote. We'll live-tweet that discussion.

    The second one is a school board meeting July 28. At that one, they can vote.

    The changes, taken together, are intended to push schools toward helping kids instead of removing them. Principals will be given a different way to categorize offenses. They'll have to jettison the overly vague "inappropriate behavior." If they want to suspend a child for more than five days -- or more than 10, cumulatively -- they'll have to check first with one of the district's eight area superintendents....

    Plant High School principal Rob Nelson warned against suspending a student for fighting on Monday and letting him return in time for the Friday football game.
  12. Middle school case puts Hillsborough district under federal scrutiny concerning disabilities

    K12

    TAMPA — Another federal probe has the Hillsborough County school system in its sights, this one concerning a learning-disabled student.

    As a result, the district is reminding teachers to assess students without delay, and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is monitoring the district's compliance.

    The agency found the district did not do all it should to protect a 12-year-old Mulrennan Middle School student who has Asperger's syndrome....

  13. Hillsborough officials vow to cut suspensions to keep kids in school and out of jail

    K12

    TAMPA — From the list of zero-tolerance offenses to the length of time kids are kept out of school, Hillsborough County students can expect dramatic changes in discipline this fall.

    Chief Diversity Officer Lewis Brinson made it clear Wednesday that many of a task force's proposed reforms will be forwarded to the School Board for approval July 28.

    Officials are still fine-tuning some features, based in part on Wednesday's meetings with staffers. For example: Three-day limits on suspensions for some offenses might be increased to five, so a child caught fighting on Monday cannot return to school for Friday night's football game....

  14. Hillsborough School Board considers adding student voice to its discussions

    K12

    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board is moving toward bringing young voices into their deliberations, but — as with so much in the large district — change won't happen quickly.

    At a workshop Sept. 1, the board plans to discuss the idea of adding a nonvoting student member, first suggested in May by member Cindy Stuart.

    Members at Tuesday's meeting generally praised the concept but asked a lot of questions....

  15. New principals in Hillsborough

    Blog

    These new principals were appointed at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting.

    Shellie Blackwood-Green, Sligh Middle School, replacing Dallas Jackson. Jackson is moving to Brandon Alternative School. Blackwood-Green, 46, was an assistant principal at Farnell and Pierce middle schools. She joined the district in 2010.

    Robert Quinn, Jefferson High School, replacing Van Ayres. Ayres is now the deputy superintendent. Quinn, 44, was hired in 1997 as a teacher at Leto High. He worked also as an assistant principal at Middleton and Jefferson high schools....

    Shellie Blackwell-Green, principal, Sligh Middle School