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  1. Letters to the Editor

Here's how restorative justice is supposed to work in schools | Sunday letters

Published Aug. 23

Pinellas County still has serious behavior problems in many schools. However, this is not a failure of restorative justice practices. It is a failure of the Pinellas County School District to properly implement them and give teachers the needed resources.

If restorative practices were being properly implemented, disciplinary referrals would not be suppressed. Other school districts, like Pittsburgh and Louisville, Ky. — which we visited — are having great successes in lowering disciplinary referrals while creating a secure climate. Our district needs to allocate the same resources that these districts did by bringing in real restorative practices experts over the course of the year and not relying on a "train the trainer" model. Three key components that work in other districts are missing: ongoing coaching, restorative conference training and a measured evaluation process. Restorative conferencing is especially vital to ensure that children face real sanctions for misbehavior.

School Board members Nicole Carr, Lisa Cane and Joanne Lentino met with 2,500 parents at the FAST Nehemiah Action to hear these concerns. Since then, they have voiced concerns, but their voices need to become louder, and the other members need to join them in demanding that experts are hired to oversee the restorative practices implementation.

Over time, restorative practices changes school culture. It provides tools for students and teachers to use when addressing conflict while holding students accountable for their actions. Teachers discover the root causes of why their students act out, and students begin to trust and open up to their teachers. Everyone feels valued as members of the school community, and discipline problems decrease.

As parents of children in Pinellas schools, we want our schools to be safe, equitable places for our kids to learn. Teachers deserve our support and all students deserve success. A quality implementation of restorative practices in our schools would help the district meet these goals.

Chrisandra Harris and Leslie Walbolt

The writers are members of the Youth Suspensions and Arrests Committee for Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) and are mothers of children who attend Pinellas schools.

Paving the way for toll roads | Editorial, Aug. 21

Speak up on toll roads

Three task forces are getting ready to start studying the feasibility of possible new infrastructure known as Multiuse Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES) program. As the former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management and later the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), I know that these corridors can be lifesaving evacuation routes and crucial for bringing in relief supplies and other vital necessities such as food, fuel and water. I'm sure many remember that during Hurricane Irma in 2017, about 5.6 million Floridians (nearly a quarter of our state's population) were told to evacuate, causing widespread traffic tie-ups. But that's just one of the important pieces to the in-depth study that the Florida Department of Transportation is managing to engage the public. As a longtime emergency manager, I've received great ideas and information from the public. That's why I would encourage anyone interested in these issues to keep apprised of meeting schedules and updates.

It's important to note that the three task forces (one for each proposed corridor) are just beginning their process of research and gathering public input. The purpose of the task forces is to determine if building new roadways is necessary and feasible, and, if so, how to build them responsibly. Your opinions and your knowledge of your communities are vital for in-depth research. To ensure all sides are heard, the Department of Transportation has included many task force members with strong environmental expertise, including representatives of Audubon Florida, The Nature Conservancy and 1000 Friends of Florida. As a Floridian who loves our state in all its complexity, I'm glad to see that. The greater the variety of voices, the better informed the task forces and FDOT will be. That's where you come in. Join the discussion.

Craig Fugate, Gainesville

The writer is the former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management and former head of FEMA. He currently advises companies and groups on crisis response.

Would Fla. ban virtually all guns? | PolitiFact, Aug. 19

Focus on capacity

Here's a suggestion for any Florida amendment on guns: Don't design the wording to address the weapon, go for the capacity. Ban any weapon with a magazine able to hold more than 10 rounds or any such detachable magazine. With this wording, if a gun or magazine holds 10 or fewer rounds, it's legal. More than 10 rounds? Illegal. Over time the number of high-capacity weapons and magazines will decline.

John Day, Clearwater

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