March 11, 2014. WFLA.COM
PINELLAS COUNTY, FL (WFLA) – Incidents like a recent school fight at Gibbs High School, can lead to an arrest, conviction and a record that lasts for years.
Some question the wisdom of involving the law, when the school could handle the problem internally.
Representing more than three dozen congregations in Pinellas County, a group called FAST wants Pinellas County to model a program like the one in place in Broward County, where a list of 85 minor offenses don’t lead to an arrest.
“It seems like we’re arresting children from schools for stuff that maybe you and I would would get a detention for back in the day,” said Deacon Peter Andre of FAST.
Deacon Andre knows of a middle school student arrested for throwing an orange on a school bus.
“They dragged that kid off to jail. So now that kid has a criminal record,” he said.
Make no mistake about it: serious crimes, like bringing a gun to school, would still involve the law, cops and an arrest. Minor offenses would not.
Supporters of the change say it’s working in Broward County.
“Since they put theirs in, they have diverted over a thousand students, youths from being arrested,” said Rev. Robert Ward, a FAST member.
FAST invited Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego to the gathering, with one intention: to find out if he supports their cause.
Grego’s answer: a big “yes”.
“It’s happening even without this agreement on paper, you know, just this heightened awareness about a deferment program and about, what else can we do instead of arresting students,” said Dr. Grego.
Superintendent Grego says the Sheriff’s office is working to implement a “no arrest” plan now. He says January 2013 to January 2014, saw student arrests drop 52%, and it has continued into February.
The school system hopes to have the list of non-arrestable offenses ready in the next 4 to 6 months.