TAMPA — Scaling back law enforcement in school discipline and making sure students understand their rights are at the top of a list of recommendations to Hillsborough school leaders by a task force on how to better serve students in minority groups.
Two years after the task force was formed, its members on Friday finalized changes it will propose to the school board on reducing the number of suspensions among black and Hispanic boys.
“The recommendations start the pathway for what’s next,” acting Superintendent Jeff Eakins said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of the issues we know we’re going to be facing head-on in order to affect students positively in the future.”
The proposed changes — which will be presented to the school board as soon as April 21 — include:
♦ In the student handbook, limit intervention by law enforcement officers to incidents considered Level 1 offenses, such as arson, battery, homicide and weapons possession. If a student gets in trouble for a Level 2, 3 or 4 incident, a guidance counselor would come up with a plan.
♦ Change the word “offense” to “incidence” in the student code of conduct. Task force members said the incidence is a less punitive term.
♦ Transition the minority student task force to a permanent advisory council designed to hold the district accountable for following through on the proposed changes and to come up with more. The task force will discuss details at its next meeting March 20.
♦ Create a bill of rights for students that includes a provision prohibiting interrogation about an incident until they have a chance to ask for a parent or trusted adult to be present. Students would be given a form that details their rights.
“What we think this will do is slow down the process and give everybody a chance to think about what it is they're doing,” said task force member Michael Pheneger, head of the local American Civil Liberties Union.
The district is the subject of a federal investigation spurred by a complaint that Hillsborough discriminates against black students by disciplining them more harshly and more often than their white peers.
[link to tbo.com