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    Letters to the Editors

    Overreaction led to overly severe punishment

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


    Re: Punishment of Palm Harbor University High School baseball players for "rough-housing."

    My family and I watched the Pinellas County School Board meeting of May 8. We felt it was important to spend four hours trying to understand the reasoning why these students will not be able to be with their classmates at the senior functions, which include graduation.

    My son is a senior at Palm Harbor University High School and has been good friends with both of these students for more than eight years. My son was also one of the students who spoke at the School Board meeting, which made my wife and me very proud.

    These students have been at my home numerous times, they have played baseball together and we know their parents. As a concerned parent, I followed the first incident closely as well as this one. I would also like you to know that my son has benefited greatly from his educational experience at PHUHS. The faculty has done an exceptional job of providing him a place to learn and develop. I find it hard but necessary to write this letter.

    What was so amazing was that the board members and superintendent talked about zero-tolerance issues such as drugs, smoking and alcohol that the school system has elected to enforce but many times do not warrant the type of punishment that was handed out to these students. There was talk about the court ruling that the superintendent and certain members of the board would like you to believe found the boys guilty but was, in fact, just a ruling stating that proper procedures for appeal of this situation were followed by the school system.

    This appears to me to be a victimless crime. The student who was supposed to be the victim in this situation has stated numerous times that it was nothing more than a rough-housing situation. That student's parents have not filed a police report. It is my understanding that the parents expected the coach to handle the disciplinary action with Brian and Chris.

    The story, as told by the principal and school system administrators, would lead everyone to believe that these students participated in an act against another student that was so heinous that it warranted the action taken by principal Alec Liem.

    They also would like us to believe that the return to school of Brian and Chris would be disruptive and a threat to other students. If that was the case and I were the parent of the student who was the target of this "violent act," I would have filed a police report. The school records of Brian and Chris do not support a pattern of unacceptable behavior.

    Another amazing thing about this situation is that the principal, athletic director and the former baseball coach who were involved in handing down the punishment in the "hazing" incident three years ago are all involved again. The school system directs no punishment toward these employees even though they failed to appropriately handle a much more violent hazing situation at that time and overreacted to a significantly minor situation this time.

    Liem and the school system feel the way to resolve this issue is not to allow these students to graduate with the class of 2001. If these administrators feel this situation warrants this type of punishment, then they should also be held responsible for not properly supervising the students in their care.

    It was clear to me watching the School Board meeting that any change in the punishment handed down would be a sign of weakness on the part of everyone involved in the decision and would undermine the principal's ability to effectively run the school even if the punishment were too harsh.

    In my view, Liem overreacted when the issue was first brought before him. It took on a life of its own and spun out of control. He was forced into a situation of no retreat. His handling of the situation three years ago was vivid in his mind and he was not going to be put back in that situation again.

    The vast majority of students and parents associated with PHUHS are extremely proud of the high quality of education in all areas at the school. The hard work that has gone into becoming the No. 14 high school in the nation is threatened by situations like this. It is much harder to stay at the top than it is to get there. I hope Liem did not feel that reconsidering his position would weaken the school's quality of education.

    This was an extremely expensive lesson for the students directly involved, the student body, teachers and the administration. It is now the responsibility of the Pinellas County School Board to ensure this situation is not repeated.
    -- Bob Clifford, Palm Harbor

    Denying pupils graduation walk is unfair

    Re: Board affirms decision on 2 students, story, May 9.

    During the previous eight years we heard the expression, "It's the economy, stupid."

    Here's a message to Pinellas County Schools: It's the students, stupid!

    Students and their families are more important than your policies and the feelings of school administrators who struggle to deal with the complexities of modern life. Sure, they are overworked and underpaid, but so are a lot of of us.

    Superintendent Howard Hinsley's adamant support of a flawed policy and wrong decision proves his priority is the system and not the community. His unwillingness to lead has left many of us wondering where is his compassion, where is his sense of fairness? If he cannot see it in his heart to let these boys graduate with their classmates, then he has lost the moral authority to lead this school system.

    The Palm Harbor baseball players have been punished enough. Let them walk.
    -- Marty Wulf, St. Petersburg

    Builder should make good on promises

    Many of the residents of Virginia Crossing in Dunedin, constructed by Highmark Homes, are now faced with the possibility of having our homes foreclosed on by contractors whom Highmark still owes for services and goods.

    We have been served with summonses and put in the position of having to retain legal counsel to represent us to prevent foreclosures.

    We have paid for our houses. We have signed and notarized paperwork from the builder stating that all bills were paid in full and that our homes were "free and clear of all debts and encumbrances." Nevertheless, it is still our responsibility to satisfy these debts.

    Our question at this time to the city of Dunedin is how can they even consider permitting Highmark to start construction of a luxury high-rise on Bayshore Boulevard? The article we read stated that the company would need to first complete the infrastructure at Virginia Crossing. What about the clubhouse, the pool, the pocket park, the reclaimed water system (many residents are still not hooked up and operating), the fences, drainage problems? These are only the items shared by our entire community.

    What about Highmark having to make good the interior work never completed in many homes and paying the contractors who are now trying to collect from the owners?

    It seems to me the only people suffering are the ones who acted in good faith -- the owners and the contractors. They supplied their services and goods with the expectation of being paid for their work.

    We paid in full for our homes expecting free and clear titles. The builder swore that all bills were paid. Is Dunedin really going to permit Highmark to continue to build and expose others to this same travesty?
    -- Florence Barnett, Dunedin

    It's Belleair Bluffs, if you please

    Re: Belleair, Largo could swap problems, letter, May 8.

    First, a clarification: Belleair Bluffs is the city that is giving small businesses the boot, not Belleair. As a resident and former city commissioner in Belleair Bluffs, it is a source of annoyance to hear our city frequently confused with our neighbor to the north.

    Of course, it doesn't help when some businesses within our city limits use "Belleair" in their names and forget to add the "Bluffs." Belleair Bluffs is a down-to-earth, friendly, small city and our residents are fiercely proud of that fact.

    Of course, what our city is called in the future may not matter much longer. With the current commission bowing down to the almighty Walgreens at the expense of several of our unique small businesses, I'm sure that they'd be more than happy to sign over the other corner of our major intersection should an Eckerd come knocking. Then we could just call ourselves "Anytown, U.S.A."
    Carol Cortright, Belleair Bluffs

    A missed opportunity to honor teachers

    The week of May 7-11 we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. To my dismay, I did not read a whole lot about our teachers.

    Working in close contact with teachers, I have come to appreciate the sacrifices they make and their hard work -- work which does not come to an end at the close of a day as in most other jobs.

    Teachers go home and grade papers and make up tests as well as tutor those students who may need a little extra help, aside from taking care of their own domestic responsibilities. They often dig into their own pockets, without complaint, to buy needed classroom supplies. They do this in that special, humble and quiet fashion for the good of all our children because they are dedicated to education and loyal to their vocation.

    Oftentimes, when a teacher sees a need to correct or admonish a student for wrongdoing, parents jump to the defense of their child and are quick to insult the teacher and accuse him or her of picking on their child when they really should show a little appreciation and offer support and encouragement to the teacher.

    It is said that police and firefighters are among the most underpaid service providers, and that is certainly true. But surely our nation's teachers stand right up there among them.

    Maybe it's time for all of us to say thank you to our nation's teachers. I say thank you because I can write this letter. You should say thank you because you can read it. Thank you, teachers of America!
    -- Len Vivolo, Clearwater

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