Pinellas schools to change suspension policy

Posted at 4:48 PM, Apr 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-14 01:14:17-04

Suspended students in Pinellas County Schools may soon not be allowed to roam the streets. A disciplinary policy change could have them serving any out-of-school suspensions under close supervision.
Students who were disciplined with an out-of-school suspension used to be just sent home, often missing out on critical classwork.

Soon, they may be sent to one of six proposed locations where they will be given computer access and closely supervised by adults.

The proposed locations are Tomlinson Adult Center, Bayside High School, Pinellas Secondary School, Clearwater Intermediate and the district’s Title I Office and Disston Academy.

However, these six locations are being looked at possible sites. Not all six will end up being used, a district spokesperson said.

The district will collect data on where students would be most in need of a location and make the determination on appropriate locations and number of sites, the district said.

High school students may also be given a free bus pass so they can get transportation to these supervised locations, said Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board member.

This is welcome news to Fairmount Park Elementary parent Josephine McAffee, who has seen kids caught stealing cars and worse.

"I really do feel like some of them are lost and feel like there is just no way," she said.

She believes all students, even those who get in trouble, deserve access to education.

"There's still is hope in their futures, regardless of their past hope and situations," McAffee said.

Other parents agree.

"These kids aren't dumb," said Dwight Mack, a Fairmount Park Elementary father. "They know what's going on. But we don't know what's going on with them."

The goal is to make sure these kids don't fall behind on school work and can make up tests, school board leaders said.

"Anybody, young or old, getting the supervision that they need, it's definitely going to help," said Charles Trublood, whose grandchildren attend Pinellas County Schools.

Recently, the school district has reduced the number of days a student can receive out-of-school suspension from 10 days down to three days per offense. School leaders said they are aiming to keep kids in the classroom more often to discourage gaps in education.

"The supervision, the three days, I think is great," Mack said.

This comes as the Department of Education is investigating Pinellas County Schools to see if they discriminate against black students. Typically, black students in Pinellas County are suspended at higher rates than other students.

Dr. Antonio Burt is now in charge of fixing seven failing Pinellas schools and said refining school suspension policies is critical.

"We are looking at how do we build upon what's in place now," he said. "We want to celebrate the kid for doing well, but we also want to teach them when they tend to steer on the wrong path."

While this policy change is not final yet, McAffee feels this is a step in the right direction.

"The fact that we would know where our children would be at," she said. "We would know they are safe, not roaming the streets."

The school board plans to refine this policy throughout the next few months.