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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Pinellas schools to revise student code of conduct

— Students won’t get later starting times next school year, but they will get a revised code of conduct, Pinellas County School Board members decided Tuesday.

The school district’s Transportation Department looked into starting high schools later in the morning after a proposed bill reinvigorated the debate during this legislative session. However, after creating multiple models and “exploring all options,” the district was unable to change the time without impacting other grades and increasing the cost of transportation, said Michael Bessette, associate superintendent of operational services.

Morning bells still will ring at 7:05 a.m. in high schools. The school day won’t change, but expectations for students might.

Board members voted to schedule a public hearing on a slew of changes to the Student Code of Conduct, a process the district goes through every three years. During the past few months, school officials have taken suggestions from parents, principals and other stakeholders and condensed them to those with the most support.

“Over the number of years, more and more things keep getting tagged on to this as laws and policies change, and it’s been a period of time since we’ve sat down and flushed everything out,” Superintendent Michael Grego said. “Ultimately, the end user, the parents and the students, have to readily understand it, and I think this will go a long way toward maintaining consistency among schools.”

One of the biggest changes is the creation of “school-wide behavior plans” meant to ensure that all students are treated consistently, receiving equal punishments that match each infraction. Each school will create its own plan, but the school district will require each one to keep data on the success of the plans and student interventions, as well as identifying and helping students with chronic behavior problems.

The schools will have help from the school district to create the plans, but all should consider alternatives to expulsions or arrests unless absolutely necessary, said Ward Kennedy, Area 3 superintendent. The change falls in line with a new memorandum of understanding the school district signed with local municipalities to curb the number of student arrests.

The changes also specify that if parents who were never married or are currently separated give schools conflicting information about the education of their students, and if they don’t have a “parenting plan” on file with the school district, the parent whose address is on file will have the ultimate authority. If the address on file is not valid, the district would rely on the parent who enrolled the student in school.

A bulk of the additions clarify expectations for students’ behavior on school buses, as well as how parents and students may address transportation concerns. “This is not necessarily new information, but it’s new to the code,” Kennedy said.

The changes make parents responsible for providing necessary protection and safety for their students going to and from the bus stop, and they specify that students are expected to arrive 5 to 10 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive and wait 30 minutes after the scheduled time if the bus is late.

Also, if a student leaves a cellphone or other electronic device on a school bus, drivers must return the items to the school district’s bus compound for the student or parent to pick up with proper identification. Additional behavior rules for the bus include no pushing, bullying or unauthorized use of the emergency door, and they break down infractions by severity. A minor infraction would be eating, chewing gum, using profanity and being loud or disruptive, while a major infraction would be throwing items out of the bus, spitting, moving while the bus is in motion, spraying perfumes or speaking profanely to an adult.

“While I agree that we can look at alternative ways to present the student code of conduct to our students and parents, ultimately it is still their responsibility to read it,” board member Rene Flowers said. “There’s still a level of accountability we need to stress.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

♦  Board members approved hiring Cecilia Palmer, an assistant principal at Oakhurst Elementary, to become principal of Safety Harbor Elementary starting June 9. Safety Harbor Principal Robert Kalach Jr. will head Gulf Beaches Elementary, a technology magnet that opens next school year.

♦  Board members signed a five-year charter agreement with East Windsor Middle Academy to open next school year in north St. Petersburg. The charter middle school has a minimum enrollment of 120 students and a maximum enrollment of 600.

♦  Board members approved a proposed lease to take over Gulf Coast Academy charter school after it closes at the end of the school year for about $13,000 in monthly rent starting Aug. 1. The district plans to reopen the school next year for students at risk of dropping out of high school.

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