Pinellas schools considering discipline changes

Posted at 5:38 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 18:32:08-05
Pinellas County School leaders could soon make big changes to the way they discipline students. 
Board members heard a plan Tuesday that would reduce the number of days a student could be suspended from a mandatory 10 days to no more than five days. The updated policy would also allow students to submit make-up work without a grade penalty if they are absent for any reason, a school spokesperson said.
"Every day a student is not in class is a day of which we've lost instruction," said Dr. Michael Grego, Pinellas County school superintendent. 
He said the district has been informally following these guidelines for awhile and has already seen a reduction in referrals and suspensions.
"We're seeing the results of this even before this policy change," he said.
Leaders at Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg have also been pushing for these changes and said they have been working with the school board to make disciplinary revisions.
Most of the kids facing out-of-school suspensions are black and Latino students and that needs to change, said Rev. Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community. 
"Our kids tend to get the brunt of all the negative statistics, and it's time now to make a change in that," he said. "Putting them out there, unsupervised, simply places them in an environment to increase the bad behavior."
Thomas Riggins is a Pinellas School District father and former teacher. He said he has seen his kids get called out by Pinellas teachers for strange things.
"I got a call saying my son is blinking too much," Riggins said. 
His oldest son also got in trouble for asking a question.
"He thought my son was trying to be disrespectful because he asked him to repeat himself," Riggins said. "He's missing time when he could be in his seat, doing work. Just some things. Life is not always fair."
He believes the school board is moving in the right direction with these new changes, but also says he doesn't think they go far enough. He wants the board to eventually ban all out-of-school suspensions.
"You have to crawl before you can walk," Riggins said. "Right now, we're still crawling."
The district could pass the new disciplinary policy change later this month.
In addition to the policy change, district leaders said they are continuing to participate in a national conversation about improving disciplinary policies. Area superintendents attended ReThink School Discipline at the White House in July, and are attending another regional conference Feb. 17.