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Pasco PTA looking for answers on database that labels students as potential criminals

Posted at 5:15 PM, Dec 15, 2020

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — The Pasco County Parent-Teacher association say they want to know everything they can about a program described as "secretive” involving at-risk students.

This comes after a recent Tampa Bay Times investigation reported saying kids and parents aren’t even aware they are on a list used by the sheriff’s office to predict future criminal behavior.

“My initial reaction was let's get to the bottom of this," said PTA Council President Alicia Williams.

Williams says she met with the sheriff’s office Monday and will speak at Tuesday's school board meeting.

“We don’t want any of our students categorized as potential criminals if that’s what it was being used for. We want to make sure it’s just used for good and that it’s helping the child’s educational experience," said Williams.

The sheriff’s office says the Times' reports included “fundamentally untrue points.” And they say the list of students is part of the district’s Early Warning System.

The sheriff’s office said they cross-reference that list with their own system to develop a list of about 420 students. They say most of those students have documented criminal histories.

The sheriff's office also says “the sharing of information between the school board and the Sheriff's Office is mandated by the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Commission, to prevent another tragedy such as this from occurring.”

Williams continues to look for answers and says the ethics of these systems seem to be open to interpretation.

“I think transparency is key. Our parents, if there is this list that so happens to exist, parents should be aware that children are on it and be working with them and it should be a collaborative effort," said Williams.

A group of teachers is circulating a petition.

They want the sheriff’s database of “at-risk” children to be deleted and they are asking the district to stop sharing kids’ data with the police.

Response from the Pasco County School District:

"We have received a letter from the Pasco County Council of PTAs expressing concerns and requesting dialogue.

We consider the PTA to be a valuable partner and we know they share our goal of providing a safe and secure learning environment for our students. As always, we welcome their input. We look forward to the opportunity to provide a fuller picture of our relationship with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. We worked closely with the Sheriff’s Office before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy, and our partnership has grown even stronger as we worked together to recruit and train School Safety Guards for our elementary schools, to enhance our crisis planning, and to implement legislatively-required law enforcement participation in our threat assessment teams.

We will assure the PTA County Council that our agreements with the Sheriff’s Office are routinely reviewed and, when appropriate, revised or updated. We also look forward to ongoing dialogue with the Sheriff’s Department so that our students continue to fully benefit from their involvement in our schools."

Response from the Pasco Sheriff's Office:

We have a multitude of concerns with the Tampa Bay Times' articles, including several fundamentally untrue points in their "reporting."
The list in question is being portrayed as a strictly PSO program.

In reality, the Times is conflating a school program, the Early Warning System, which contains over 20,000 students, which is then cross-referenced with PSO's report management system to develop a list of approximately 420 students, a majority of which have documented criminal histories.

In addition, the sharing of information between the school board and the Sheriff's Office is mandated by the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Commission, to prevent another tragedy such as this from occurring.

Let me be vehemently clear. The Pasco Sheriff's Office DOES NOT keep a list, to use your phrase, "to profile schoolchildren as potential future criminals", nor is it secret. The list that the Pasco Sheriff's Office uses is a list of those who would benefit from additional mentorship by SROs, in a variety of formats, such as intervention and education, connecting children to resources in the community or at the school itself, or to tie in parental involvement.

I'm including our full response to the Times below for reference. Should you need any additional information, please let me know.

Full response:

"The Pasco Sheriff’s Office will not back down nor apologize for keeping our community and children safe. In addition, we will continue to do all in our power to prevent another tragedy such as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas while serving our community and children. We hope that any group with concerns would contact us directly so we can provide them the truth.
We will have no additional comment to the Times regarding this "investigation." It is clear that the Times has perverted the truth, relying on statements from individuals with a well-documented bias against the Sheriff's Office, including a former employee who engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a confidential informant, and other individuals with serious charges in their backgrounds which calls into question their credibility. The Times has repeatedly demonstrated there is no interest in seeking out and reporting the truth, despite the many responses we have provided to you numerous times.
Furthermore, despite the numerous facts provided to the Times, the Times continues to conflate or not understand the difference between ILP and predictive policing. We again refer you to the voluminous documentation we have previously provided about the stark differences between these two terms. As noted below, this is just one of many concerning elements to this “investigation” that calls into question the Times’ journalistic credibility. The carefully crafted marketing campaign surrounding the articles, on both the Times’ and its reporters' behalf, also presents several hallmark traits of classic yellow journalism, which is yet another astounding aspect of this entire enterprise.
It has become abundantly evident that the Times has no interest in the truth, which we have provided to you numerous times. This is further evidenced by the constant conflation of School District programs with much narrower PSO programs, and the lack of transparency on behalf of your publication. There has been no effort to inform the public of similar programs in other jurisdictions throughout our state, and this is clearly an attempt, to use the Times’ own phrasing, to target PSO specifically. Quite frankly, this flies in the face and spirit of investigative journalism and the pursuit of uncovering a full and complete fact and evidence-based investigation.

In that same spirit, we also note that the Times interviewed Dr. Fox, who disputed the findings in the Times' "investigation," but refused to publish any comment from her as it did not fit the Times' pre-existing, anti-law enforcement narrative. This is a concerning lack of journalistic integrity and we have no interest in continuing to engage with the Times on this subject when the Times ignores it from multiple individuals, including respected academics at our own state universities.
This anti-law enforcement agenda and reporting is quite clearly driven by the entities making donations to the Times' investigative fund and we would again reiterate our request that the Times publish those who have contributed donations to this story as it is important for the public knowledge and to present a more complete picture of why the Times chooses to only include those who fit the Times' pre-existing narrative. We are very concerned that “pay-to-play” journalism is alive and well in this reporting and will not be a party to it.
It is interesting these interest groups have allegedly notified the Times of their intentions, yet to date, no group has reached out to the Sheriff's Office for factual information, again bringing into question their true intentions and we would reiterate our invitation above for any of these groups to contact us for the truth.
This release of information would also explain the baffling decision by the Times to ignore every other agency in the state who utilizes the ILP philosophy and follows state statute regarding school safety.
We look forward to working with our community to continue to keep it and our children safe from crime and tragedy and would urge the Times to print this response in full out of journalistic integrity."