Three Seminole Middle School Students Accused of Hitting School Employees
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
The incident, which was caught on videotape, is merely one in a long line of violent incidents at the school, according to statements from employees contained in a Pinellas County Sheriff’s report. The Pinellas County School District is investigating.
SEMINOLE – Three students from Seminole Middle School are accused of striking a teacher and a support employee at the school.
The three boys are charged with one count each of battery on a school board employee. One boy is 13; the other two, 14, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. TB Reporter is withholding their names because of their ages.
The arrests arose from an April 18 incident in the emotional/behavioral disability unit at the school, 8701 131st St. N in Seminole. Deputies say the incident started when one of the 14 year olds was told by his teacher, Jaclyn Rivera, 32, to leave the classroom and report to the office. When he returned, Rivera stood in the doorway and blocked him from entering the classroom. She told deputies that she was afraid he would try to confront other students in the classroom.
A school surveillance tape shows the boy struggle with Rivera and push her backwards into the classroom as he forces his way in. The tape then shows other students from Rivera’s class physically dragging the boy into a hallway where a struggle between students ensues. This happened several times.
Deputies said that Mark McConnell, 49, a school associate at Seminole Middle, arrived on the scene after the boy’s outburst. He was walking down the hallway when one of Rivera’s students, the 13 year old, grabbed his keys out of his pocket. As McConnell and the 13 year old tussled, a 14 year old grabbed McConnell from behind. Both fell. McConnell sought treatment for a sprained right shoulder and sprained right wrist the next day.
Another school employee, Cidney Moore, arrived about the time McConnell was pulled to the floor. Moore, the school’s behavior specialist, called Deputy James Walker, the school resource officer, for help. According to Walker’s report, Moore told him, “that something had to be done because she was tired of walking into the hallway and seeing ‘her people’ on the floor.”
“Moore … explained that the situation has gotten completely out of hand and that the students seem to feel it is perfectly OK for them to put their hands on staff members. Moore relayed to us that she, as well as other teachers, had been struck and shoved and she had been intentionally struck by [a student] who shoved a door into her,” according to Walker’s report.
McConnell also indicated there is a high level of violence at the school. According to Walker’s report, McConnell told deputies that “he has worked in other EBD [emotional/behavioral disability] units in other schools but stated he has never seen or endured anything like what he has experienced at Seminole Middle School. He stated the level of physical aggression is unlike anything he has encountered.”
Rivera, the teacher, agreed, telling deputies, that the incident “was another in a long line of aggressive incidents from students toward staff members.”
Rivera also said the school’s referral and disciplinary system is “not normal.”
“Rivera stated that she did not write a referral but passed the information about what [the student] had done to her along but wasn’t sure if anything had been, or would be done. She relayed information about other incidents that I was not previously aware of and, when asked why she hasn’t made any report herself, she stated that because so much is tolerated by the school administration she feels like she is expected to put up with it,” Walker wrote.
Walker himself said, “When I first came to Seminole Middle School I began to observe that infractions committed by certain students were not entered into FOCUS which is the school system’s official records program.”
Walker said Wendy Bryan, the school’s principal, saw the video and was “astonished but laid the blame on the staff members rather than on the students.”
The deputy said Bryan told him Rivera should have let the student back in the classroom and McConnell should not have tried to retrieve his keys. Bryan, he said, also criticized them for using their hands to restrain or keep distance between themselves and the students. Bryan, he said, reported the incident to the district’s Office of Professional Standards.
School district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf confirmed Friday (April 28) that an internal investigation into the entire incident is ongoing but said she could not comment further about it.
The district also released a statement:
“The incident at Seminole Middle School is under review by Pinellas County Schools to determine if there are areas for improvement in meeting the needs of students, especially when there is aggressive behavior. We want to ensure the safety of students and employees at all times.
“The school district will work with the sheriff’s office as they complete their investigation to understand every aspect of the incident. The school district is in the process of carefully reviewing the details and scope of the report to verify information pertaining to the incident.
“It is the school district’s intent to continue to collaborate with all law enforcement agencies in support of the memorandum of understanding, an agreement which aims to improve school safety through collaboration and communication between schools and law enforcement.”
For information about Pinellas schools, go to pcsb.org.
Video courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
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