13 March 2010

It’s that time again – Daylight Savings Time, that is

Well, it's that time again.

At 2 AM on Sunday, 14 March 2010 the time will advance one hour to 3 AM, marking the start of Daylight Savings Time for 2010. What happens is that it will get dark an hour later in the evening; however, sunrise comes an hour later as the trade-off. What does this mean? Here's a brief history thanks to Wikipedia's article on Daylight Savings Time in the United States.

First, Daylight Savings Time was implemented as early as 1918 – during World War I. However, it did not last for long and Daylight Savings Time was abolished after World War I ended. From the end of World War I to the beginning of World War II Daylight Savings Time in America was basically a local option but it became confusing.

Right after America's entry into World War II, in 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt instituted Daylight Savings Time year round, which was also called War Time. This lasted throughout World War II, ending on the last Sunday in September 1945 after World War II ended. However, things got confusing in 1946 when states and localities began observing Daylight Savings Time throughout the summer months.

The United States Government got into the act to settle things once and for all with the passage of the Uniform Time Act of 1966. The act provided for, among other things, that Daylight Savings Time be observed every year from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. At the same time, the states were allowed to opt-out of observance of Daylight Savings Time, with Arizona being the first state to do so in 1968.

However, during the 1973 energy crisis a trial experiment was done putting America on year round Daylight Savings Time from 6 January 1974 to 27 April 1975. However, concerns about school children having to go to school in the dark forced Congress to amend the experiment, reverting to Standard Time on 27 October 1974 and back to Daylight Savings Time on 23 February 1975. After the experiment America returned to observing Daylight Savings Time during the summer.

In 1987 Daylight Savings Time was widened, starting from the first Sunday in April but still keeping the last Sunday in October thanks to an amendment to the Uniform Time Act of 1966. Twenty years later Daylight Savings Time was widened again thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which starts Daylight Savings Time on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November which we observe today.

Now how does Daylight Savings Time impact Florida?

Consider the fact that Florida is on two time zones – Eastern and Central. The boundary is on the Apalachicola River from the Georgia border to just before the Gulf of Mexico where the boundary makes a slight zigzag to the west and then finally to the south. By the way, the time zone boundary continues after reaching the Gulf of Mexico – it follows Florida's west coast all the way to the mouth of Tampa Bay, then it goes in a straight line south wrapping around Cuba.

Did I mention the Tampa Bay area? You got that right.

Practically you may not know this, but there is a time zone boundary three miles west of John's Pass. That means if you go under the John's Pass Bridge and go out for three miles, you have crossed into the Central Time Zone without you knowing about it. However, for all practical purposes all activities offshore observe Eastern Time, which is the time zone we are located in – makes sense, doesn't it?

With Daylight Savings Time being expanded over the years, our school children have to suffer in the form of getting up early and going to school in the dark. That's right, in the dark. While Daylight Savings Time gives us more daylight in the evening, we have to suffer by sending our children to school and having to commute to work while it's still dark. Moreover, if you are one of those commuters who work in downtown St. Petersburg or downtown Tampa, use a parking garage and have to walk a ways to your office that can be dangerous with it being dark in the morning.

But Florida has the right to opt-out of participation in Daylight Savings Time. All it takes is an act of the Florida Legislature to make it happen. In fact, in 2008 Florida State Senator Bill Posey tried to pass a bill that would indeed opt Florida out of participation in Daylight Savings Time but the bill did not pass unfortunately.

I feel Florida needs to opt itself out of Daylight Savings Time, at least the part of Florida in the Eastern Time Zone. Why?

First and foremost, we are sending our children to school in the dark. According to the FloridaHatesDST.org web site when we are on Daylight Savings Time in the Eastern Time Zone, at 6 AM the sun is already up in places like Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. Not in Florida, however – at 6 AM it is still dark yet.

Now realize that Florida is the southernmost state in the 48 conterminous United States, and we sit on two time zones, Eastern and Central. Hawaii does not observe Daylight Savings Time and neither does most countries of the Caribbean due to the fact that the sun rises and sets at the same time year round. Florida's southernmost point, Key West, is not too far from the Tropic of Cancer. Furthermore, Florida is the last place in the Eastern Time Zone to see the sun rise as far as Daylight Savings Time is concerned, according to FloridaHatesDST.org.

And one more thing: Daylight Savings Time was designed to be observed from the original last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, not extended out to the point that we are sending our children to school in the dark more often.

How can we Floridians make this happen? It's very simple: Write or email your legislators in Tallahassee. In fact, feel free to print a copy of this blog and send it to your legislators along with your letter. We'll do our children a big favor, and that is not having to send our children to school while it's still dark outside.

10 March 2010

Ongoing Problems at John Hopkins Middle School

As we St. Petersburg residents have read about in the St. Petersburg Times as well as Bay News 9 and 10 Connects (WTSP-TV) recently, problems have been rampant at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg. So far this school year, it has been reported that over 60 arrests have been made at that school and even faculty members have expressed their fears; one of them say that there is no control of the students.

Lately, the Pinellas County School District has stepped up to the plate to help curb some of the problems going on at John Hopkins Middle. Among one of these improvements include transferring the students who have serious disciplinary issues to other schools throughout Pinellas County including Pinellas Secondary School located in Pinellas Park on 66 St N. Pinellas Secondary School sits on the former site of the District Offices of St. Petersburg College. However, transferring a student from a student's assigned school to Pinellas Secondary is not an easy task for a principal as evaluations have to be done and a student's educational record has to be reviewed, not to mention that a transfer of this nature also requires the approval of the Director of School Operations in the area where the student's assigned school is located.

For those of you who do not know where John Hopkins Middle School is located, it's on 16 St S just south of Interstate 175, directly opposite Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. I had the privilege of visiting this school a couple of years ago when public hearings were held regarding the Pinellas County School District's changeover from the Choice Model (where students can pick a school within a given attendance area) to the Neighborhood Zoned School Model where students are assigned to a school based on where the student lives. You may also want to see my related blog on this topic in which sometimes close to home school is not the case.

Now let me offer you my solution to the problems that have taken place at John Hopkins Middle School, which I feel should be applied county wide:

1. Remove the students who have chronic behavioral issues from John Hopkins Middle and reassign them elsewhere, including Pinellas Secondary. This should apply to any other school county wide.

2. Students who commit a violation of the law such as battery on a school official or another student as well as threatening a fellow student or staff member among other things should be dealt with in the juvenile justice system, with no release to their parents until trial. That's the equivalent of no bond until trial in the adult system. A judge can order that the student be suspended from school until trial and expulsion can be ordered if the student is found guilty. The suspension would be from the school that the student regularly attends, as children who are confined to juvenile detention still continue their education in a secure environment.

3. The Pinellas County School District should do away with out of school suspensions - this is nothing more than a license to be away for a certain number of days. (Look at it this way: An out of school suspension is a license granted by a school principal to roam the streets for a certain amount of days). Instead, send the students to in school suspension; at least students are still in school, doing their schoolwork, and not out there wandering the streets. Remember what happened in 1988 at Pinellas Park High School? The perpetrators - Jason Harless and Jason McCoy - were students from Pinellas Park High School that were given out of school suspensions.

While the student is reassigned to Pinellas Secondary or another school, a plan of action consisting of counselors, social workers and school administration should be put into place that addresses the student's behavioral issues while at the same time emphasizing academic success. Only when a student has demonstrated true improvement over at least two semesters – both academic and behavioral – should a student be considered for transfer back to his or her assigned school or to another different school depending on the recommendations of the administration.

However, if the student was referred to the juvenile justice system due to a violation of the law and if the student is subsequently found guilty in juvenile court and sentenced to the custody of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the student would be expelled from the Pinellas County School District by court order. In that case, the student would be able to continue his or her education in programs offered by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice such as programs in residential treatment facilities if the student is committed to such a facility.

I believe in the concept that school is not just a place to learn; it is also a place where our children are taught today to become productive members of society to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Learning is something we pass on from generation to generation; this is called the gift of knowledge. After all, our children deserve a learning environment which is free of disruptions and, as a taxpaying citizen of Pinellas County, I feel the Pinellas County School District has an obligation to provide students with a safe learning environment.