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Online survey seeks input on Pasco schools' security measures

Published Mar. 4

With school safety near the top of the state agenda, the Pasco County school district has launched an online conversation seeking community input on its next steps.

The district's latest "thought exchange" asks participants to offer ideas and recommendations for building a culture of safety and well-being.

"We want to continue to innovate to ensure that the learning environment and programs we provide to our students prepare them for success in college, career and life," superintendent Kurt Browning said in his introductory video. "To do this, we must also meet the basic need of feeling safe and secure in our learning environment."

Early responses indicated strong support for more door security at schools' main entrances, and also for added guidance counselors to help students with social and other issues. Reaction was mixed over whether teachers should be allowed to carry guns in classrooms as part of the state guardian program, which lawmakers are considering.

The survey will remain open through March 15. It is available online at https://my.thoughtexchange.com/?lang=en#101410813.

It comes at the same time that several of the state's school safety specialists, including Pasco's, are putting together a platform for lawmakers to consider during the spring session. Their ideas have included changing the frequency of required emergency drills, and creating a standardized threat-assessment database and threat-ssessment procedures.

The need to act remained clear for local officials, who continue to deal with daily threats that put campuses on alert, and field regular pitches from vendors for items such as "emergency-response door and window coverings" and social-emotional learning "toolkits."

ANTI-BULLYING SCHOLARSHIPS: The Pasco County School Board was poised to adopt a policy requiring schools to verify student claims of bullying before offering applications to the state's new "Hope" scholarship to attend different schools.

Then the state stepped in.

After hearing that Pasco and other districts were considering a verification requirement, Department of Education K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva sent a memo to superintendents stating that the 2018 law does not require substantiation of the bullying. In fact, he warned, "any district that is adding this requirement is in violation of statute and administrative rule and will be dealt with according to law."

Since taking office, Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended one elected superintendent over perceived law violations, and convinced the state Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate whether districts are properly enforcing school security mandates.

The chancellor's memo in hand, the Pasco School Board planned to put off discussion of its policy.

"We're going to update the policy and apply the clarification" before bringing it to the board, attorney Dennis Alfonso said.

CONTRACT TALKS: Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco and the Pasco school district administration will try one more avenue to resolve their contract differences before turning to official impasse hearings with the state.

The union declared a collective-bargaining stalemate in mid-January, with the sides at loggerheads over four issues — performance evaluations, raise distribution, turnaround training and seniority during layoff and transfer decisions.

They filed a declaration with the state Public Employee Relations Commission, and began reviewing magistrates to conduct hearings and issue recommendations.

Then came the idea of seeking federal mediation first. The impasse has been put on hold with the state, while the union and district instead consider mediators to come in.

Once selected, the mediator would look at proposals from both groups and see if any compromises or other resolutions could be reached without taking the next step. If anything, district employee relations director Kathy Scalise said, the mediation may reduce the number of disagreements.

Lead negotiators continue to have conversations on their own. They've discussed, for instance, whether to remove the seniority debate from the conversation to spend more time researching both interpretations of state law.

All other contract negotiations and pay raises have been finalized.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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