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What Pasco’s elected school leaders say about the sheriff’s use of student data

We asked district leaders for their reactions to our reporting on a secret Sheriff’s Office program that identifies potential criminals using student data.
The Pasco School Board meets at a meeting on June 16, 2020.
The Pasco School Board meets at a meeting on June 16, 2020. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Dec. 11, 2020
Updated Dec. 29, 2020

The Tampa Bay Times published an investigation into a secretive Pasco Sheriff’s Office program that uses student data to identify schoolchildren who could “fall into a life of crime.”

Before the story published in November, Superintendent Kurt Browning, who is elected, said he was not aware that the Sheriff’s Office was using school-district data this way. But he said he trusted the agency and believed it was using the data for legitimate purposes.

Times reporters asked the district and school board members for comment multiple times. Here is what they’ve said so far. (We’ll keep updating this as the story develops.)

[Read: All of our coverage on the Pasco sheriff’s data-driven intelligence program]

Superintendent Kurt Browning: “I have to assume that’s exactly what they are using it for”

Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning.
Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning.

A reporter interviewed Browning before the November investigation published to learn more about the program. When the reporter described the Sheriff’s Office program, the superintendent said he did not find it concerning.

“We have an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “The agreement requires them to use (the data) for official law enforcement purposes. I have to assume that’s exactly what they are using it for.”

Browning declined subsequent requests for an interview.

He provided a written statement before the November story published:

“Our school district has an excellent working relationship with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. That relationship has been strengthened in the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and that includes processes for a two-way sharing of information that could save lives and result in timely interventions with students who are at risk.

I am in frequent communication with Sheriff Nocco, and members of my staff are in constant communication with staff members from the Sheriff’s Office. If there is any need to revisit any aspect of our relationship, we will do so in a thoughtful manner with the goal of keeping our students and staff safe.”

Weeks later, at a Dec. 15 school board meeting, parents and teachers voiced concerns during public comment. Browning responded by defending the school district’s data sharing practices with the Sheriff’s Office, calling them “beneficial” to students. But he ignored the majority of the Times’ findings.

“People post stuff to the internet and people take it as gospel,” he said.

Read more on the meeting, including Browning’s full prepared comments, here.

School board chairman Allen Altman: Has not yet commented

Pasco County School Board chairman Allen Altman
Pasco County School Board chairman Allen Altman

Altman did not respond to a request for comment before the November investigation published. He did not respond to an additional request for comment in December regarding concerns from parents and teachers.

School board vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong: Has not yet commented

Pasco County School Board vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong
Pasco County School Board vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong

Armstrong declined to comment before the November story was published. She did not respond to a request for comment in December regarding concerns from parents and teachers.

School board member Colleen Beaudoin: “We all have the same priorities”

Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin
Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin

Beaudoin did not return requests for comment before the November story ran.

Regarding the response from parents and teachers, Beaudoin wrote in a December text message: “We work closely with our sheriff’s department and our Pasco County Council PTA and I value those relationships. I received an email from the PTA and have sent it to our staff to follow up with them regarding their concerns. We all have the same priorities, the safety of our students, teachers, and staff.”

School board member Alison Crumbley: “I will verify what we have as safeguards”

Pasco County School Board member Alison Crumbley
Pasco County School Board member Alison Crumbley

Before the November investigation ran, Crumbley said the district had a “great working relationship” with the Sheriff’s Office. She added that safeguards existed in the agreement between the two agencies to protect student privacy.

When asked about the specifics of the sheriff’s program, Crumbley said, “What’s good for kids is why I’m on the school board. But I don’t have a comment on this because I don’t know about this.”

Regarding concerns from parents and teachers raised in December, Crumbley wrote: “I understand we have been contacted by the PTA with concerns about this topic. As the PTA is a valuable partner with our schools I plan to follow up with them and assure them that we have safeguards in place within our system. I am in the process of working with our district officials for verification.” She added: “I will verify what we have as safeguards.”

School board member Megan Harding: “I also look forward to filling them in on the wonderful relationship we have with our sheriff’s office”

Pasco County School Board member Megan Harding
Pasco County School Board member Megan Harding

Before the investigation published, Harding described the relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the school district as “amazing.” She also said that safeguards were in place to protect student data and privacy.

In response to the concerns from parents and teachers raised in December, Harding wrote in a text message: “Just as mentioned before the relationship we have with our sheriffs office is great. We are in constant communication with them and routinely review our agreements and when appropriate revise and update them. I know our PTA has some concerns but I also look forward to filling them in on the wonderful relationship we have with our sheriff’s office.”

Responses from the district

When asked about the concerns and requests from parents and teachers, the district provided a written statement:

“We have received a letter from the Pasco County Council of PTAs expressing concerns and requesting dialogue.

We consider the PTA to be a valuable partner and we know they share our goal of providing a safe and secure learning environment for our students. As always, we welcome their input. We look forward to the opportunity to provide a fuller picture of our relationship with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. We worked closely with the Sheriff’s Office before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy, and our partnership has grown even stronger as we worked together to recruit and train School Safety Guards for our elementary schools, to enhance our crisis planning, and to implement legislatively-required law enforcement participation in our threat assessment teams.

We will assure the PTA County Council that our agreements with the Sheriff’s Office are routinely reviewed and, when appropriate, revised or updated. We also look forward to ongoing dialogue with the Sheriff’s Department so that our students continue to fully benefit from their involvement in our schools.”

Asked directly, the district declined to say if it was reviewing the Sheriff’s Office program and if it would comply with any of the other requests from the PTA.