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Will Pasco schools adopt a medical marijuana policy?

State law requires it, but the federal government still views marijuana as an illegal addictive narcotic.
Pasco County school buses   [ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times]
Pasco County school buses [ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times]
Published Oct. 8, 2019

Florida school superintendents got a blunt reminder last week that many of them, including in Pasco County, are long overdue in creating a medical marijuana usage policy required by state law more than two years ago.

“Although the area of law is relatively new, ample time has passed for districts to adopt compliant access policies,” K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva wrote in his Oct. 3 memo.

He gave the districts without policies until Dec. 1 to submit a draft, and until Dec. 31 to file an adopted rule or face penalties.

The message came shortly after a Tampa television station reported that a majority of school districts in the greater Tampa Bay region had yet to adopt marijuana policies.

The issue had not gone unnoticed in board rooms, though. Several school boards discussed the state law in recent months and did nothing because of concerns that enacting the state requirement could run afoul of federal laws. The federal government still views marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning its possession or distribution is illegal in schools and otherwise.

Violations could place school districts at risk of losing their federal funds, such as Title I grants that support the education needs of low-income students, according to the Neola group that advises several school districts. Neola refused to write any policy recommendations for its clients because of such concerns.

Pasco County School Board members raised the question during a September meeting where they were discussing a variety of policy revisions.

The district’s lack of a policy might become a disadvantage, said board member Cynthia Armstrong, because it might leave the door open to a variety of actions it cannot control.

“At what point do we need to have a policy before someone is going to force us to do it?” Armstrong asked.

Board attorney Dennis Alfonso responded that the district procedure allows parents access to their children to administer medical marijuana, while not requiring district employees to store or otherwise interact with the medicine.

“The policy we have now is to follow the controlling federal law,” Alfonso told the Pasco board, adding that the student code of conduct “does not contemplate a lawful use of marijuana” in school.

He later explained that the Pasco procedure aims to thread the needle of meeting the state mandate without violating the federal prohibitions. That way, the district can protect its employees from prosecution and also guard against losing its federal money, which runs into the millions of dollars.

It’s very similar to the Hernando County school district’s adopted policy, Alfonso said. The Tampa television station identified Hernando as the only district in its region to have a policy.

Alfonso, who also represents the Hernando board, said perhaps the only difference between Pasco’s procedure and Hernando’s policy is the level at which the activity has been adopted. The state law requires the approval of “a policy and a procedure,” not one or the other.

He said he would review whether additional action is needed, and expected that other school district lawyers would be looking at the same questions.

A-PLUS MONEY: Thirty-nine Pasco County schools are in line to share $3.15 million in state recognition funding.

The cash amounts to $100 per student at the schools that either improve their state grade or maintain an A. It can go toward employee bonuses, school supplies and temporary hiring of additional workers.

The main rub? Each school’s faculty and advisory committee must agree on a spending plan for the money.

That’s not always an easy task. Some schools have in the past battled over whether to plow the money back into campus needs or put it into employee pockets. If they choose the latter, the fight sometimes has delved into which employees should get it.

Teachers who have left schools that receive funds have complained that they didn’t get a share. Sometimes non-instructional workers have criticized plans that give them lesser amounts than others in the school.

If they can’t agree, state law says the money will be split evenly among the teachers currently at the school. They have until Feb. 1 to craft their plans.

The schools getting money this year are: Trinity Elementary, Seven Springs Middle, Marlowe Elementary, Chasco Elementary, Mitchell High, Oakstead Elementary, Trinity Oaks Elementary, Long Middle, Wiregrass Ranch High, Rushe Middle, Gulf Trace Elementary, Sunlake High, Odessa Elementary, Sanders Elementary, Wiregrass Elementary, Bexley Elementary, Krinn Technical, San Antonio Elementary, Richey Elementary, Deer Park Elementary, Weightman Middle, Land O’ Lakes High, Anclote Elementary, Pine View Elementary, Calusa Elementary, Lake Myrtle Elementary, Sand Pine Elementary, Longleaf Elementary, Seven Oaks Elementary, Dayspring Academy, Academy at the Farm, Athenian Academy, Imagine School at Land O’ Lakes, Learning Lodge, Plato Academy Trinity, Union Park Charter, Pasco eSchool, and Pasco Virtual.

PRINCIPAL CHANGES: Tim Light has been approved as the first permanent principal of Cypress Creek Middle School in Wesley Chapel.

The School Board approved Light’s assignment on Oct. 1, much earlier than it usually names leaders for schools still under construction. The stand-alone middle school is set to open next fall.

The difference this time is that Cypress Creek already operates inside classrooms at its neighboring high school, which has operated since 2017. Light has been an assistant principal there, and administrators said he was the logical pick to run the sixth- through eighth-grade side.

Light said he was excited to get started and looked forward to the challenge of being a principal. He began his career in Pasco as a social studies teacher.

The board also approved the promotion of Cynthia Bauman as principal of Mittye P. Locke Elementary.

Bauman, formerly the school’s assistant principal, has been in charge for a year in an interim capacity. The district had overlooked making hers a permanent position and fixed it.

She took over the school after Adam Wolin was transferred to run Trinity Elementary in 2018.

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