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School Board wrestles with bomb threat policy

By MELANIE AVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


TAMPA -- How could the district even consider transferring to other schools students who threatened to blow up their schools, School Board member Carol Kurdell demanded to know.

"I am opposed to this vehemently," she told her colleagues at Tuesday night's board meeting. "If we have to take this up in court, let's do it."

Kurdell was reacting to a recommendation by Superintendent Earl Lennard to re-assign two students with disabilities who had made bomb threats to other schools in the county.

School attorney Tom Gonzalez said the district has less leeway in expelling disabled students when it has been determined their disability played a part in the threat.

Kurdell was unmoved.

"If we make exceptions to this, what about the others?" she said.

Agreed board member Jack Lamb: "I think we have to follow through with what we said."

Board members are frustrated by bomb threats in schools.

So far this year, 93 bomb threats have occurred in Hillsborough, compared to 63 all last year.

Kurdell said she was worried about the district relaxing its get-tough policy. The policy allows students who make bomb threats to be expelled from the Hillsborough district for up to two years. Such students used to be sent to alternative schools.

One of the students in question Tuesday fired off a rocket made in science class at school, and the other called in a threat to school.

In the end, the board agreed to place the students on a home-based education program, in which a teacher will either go to their houses or to a neighborhood facility to educate them.

Board member Candy Olson said the district is struggling with how to educate the children, yet penalize them as well.

"We are not supposed to be custodial," she said. "We are there to be educators."

In other business, the district's lone black member broke her silence about the recent court decision ending busing for desegregation purposes.

Doris Ross Reddick was the only board member to comment about the March 16 decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Unless appealed, the court's decision means an end to 30 years of court-ordered busing.

While the court "did what they thought they needed to do," Reddick said she believes "a mistake was made."

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