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Pinellas taking closer look at reasons for arrests at schools

Published Oct. 18, 2013

About 20 percent of arrests on school grounds are for disruption, an area the Pinellas County school system is examining as officials seek to reduce the number of students leaving campus in handcuffs.

Michael Bessette, the director of operational services for the district, told the School Board on Tuesday that 121 students have been arrested at school this semester.

In the same time period last year, 154 students were arrested at Pinellas schools, a 21 percent decrease.

"Is that enough? No," said Bessette, "but the focus of every meeting we have with the (school resource officers) is to talk about it."

School Board member Linder Lerner raised the issue Tuesday after hearing rumors that elementary school students were being arrested at school.

Bessette said police had been called to elementary schools 255 times already this year but that only one elementary school student had been arrested.

Meanwhile, six elementary-age children were arrested outside of school in events that "had nothing to do with us," Bessette said.

Still, Bessette said his department wanted to take a detailed look at school arrests. A student will be arrested when drugs or weapons are involved. But for problems such as disruptive behavior, less severe consequences could be looked to first.

"If we have a high number of arrests at one school we need to know about that so we can provide some help," Bessette said.

Superintendent Mike Grego said the issue was part of the district's strategic plan. The third goal of a five-pronged plan calls for the district to "develop and sustain a healthy, respectful, caring, safe learning environment" in schools.

"We're going to continue with this," Grego said.