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.

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