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Coalition forms to oppose Pasco Sheriff intelligence program

The group asked the Department of Education to look at children of color, racial disparities in its federal investigation.
A group has come together to oppose the Pasco County Sheriff's Office program and the School District's practice of sharing data.
A group has come together to oppose the Pasco County Sheriff's Office program and the School District's practice of sharing data. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Apr. 27
Updated Apr. 27

A group of 30 national and state organizations have come together to oppose the Pasco County School District’s practice of sharing information with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, which uses the data to create a list of children the law enforcement agency believes could commit crimes.

The PASCO Coalition — People Against the Surveillance of Children and Overpolicing — is the latest group tp speak out about the relationship. In April, the Department of Education announced it was launching a federal investigation to determine if the district broke federal law by providing protected student data. The coalition urged them to look into the impact on children of color, those with disabilities and other vulnerabilities, according to a news release.

“The school district’s data-sharing policy jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable student populations, exacerbates educational inequities, and violates the rights of students and parents,” said a statement from the coalition.

The coalition includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, the national NAACP and its Pasco County chapter, the Florida Social Justice in Schools Project and more.

Related: TARGETED: A Times investigation into the Pasco sheriff's intelligence-led policing program.

Pointing to Department of Education data, the coalition said the school district’s racial disparity makes the Sheriff’s Office program dangerous. Black students make up 7 percent of the student population but are 23 percent of students expelled by the district, according to the release.

In 2020 the Tampa Bay Times reported that the school district shared student data such as grades, disciplinary history and attendance with the Sheriff’s Office, which uses that information to compile a secret list of schoolchildren it believed could “fall into a life of crime.” Critics say that is a misuse of confidential student data that could also be illegal.

School district spokesperson Stephen Hegarty said district officials stand by the program and that safeguards are in place to make sure student information is used properly.

“We’re proud of our partnership with Pasco County Schools and the work our members do to ensure safety to students, staff and families in our community,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Amanda Hunter.

She said the program does not label children as potential future criminals and instead uses the data to make sure red flags are not missed, based on the recommendation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission Report, which was commissioned to examine the mass shooting that killed 17 people at the Parkland school and the security of schools across the state.

“We always encourage anyone with questions on the program to reach out to us directly for additional information,” Hunter said.