PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The Pasco County School Board approved an updated agreement with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office regarding student information that was shared on Tuesday.
The Pasco County School Board and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office released a joint statement that the revised agreement:
“Voluntarily removes School Resource Officers’ (SROs) access to student data, including student grades, attendance, and discipline. Additionally, under the agreement, SROs will no longer have access to the school district’s Early Warning System, which designates which students are considered off-track, on-track, or at-risk.”
Members of the Sheriff’s Office Real Time Crime Center will maintain access as they currently have for use in the narrow instances of school threat assessments and public safety emergencies, such as a missing or abducted child or a threat to a school campus.
However, as stated in the agreement, this access will not include grades. The updated agreement provides for an audit process through which sheriff’s office personnel will create a record of any school district data they access, as well as the reason it was necessary, in line with legislative mandates, according to the joint statement.
“This amended agreement will not in any way compromise the safety and security of students, staff and faculty at Pasco County’s schools,” said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. “It also will not impact our ongoing initiatives related to mental health and substance abuse, such as the successful #YouMatter campaign. We are voluntarily making this update to our agreement with the Pasco County School Board to ease any anxiety that parents may have as a result of misinformation perpetuated by media reports. To be clear, over the 20 years that our SROs have had access to this information, we have never relied on grades, attendance or school discipline to deem any child ‘at-risk for being a future criminal,’ nor do we use predictive policing, and this update to policy just further clarifies and reflects that reality. In addition, it is important to note that these positions are the only ones who had access to this information and it was never shared with patrol deputies or detectives.”
“This agreement strikes an appropriate balance between sharing and the continued safeguarding of student privacy,” Superintendent of Pasco Schools Kurt Browning said. “Our partnership with the Sheriff’s Office is strong and our students and staff will continue to benefit from our excellent working relationship.”
The Department of Education launched an investigation into whether the district illegally shared student information with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
The People Against the Surveillance of Children and Over-policing (PASCO) Coalition sent a letter this week demanding the district stop sharing student information.
The PASCO Coalition issued the following statement today after the changes were approved:
“The PASCO Coalition is extremely disappointed by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office (“Sheriff”) and the Pasco County School Board’s (“District”) announcement of “revisions” to their data-sharing agreement. While these revisions were touted as reforms that were responsive to the “distracting” criticisms the program was receiving, these revisions do not go far enough in limiting the Sheriff’s access to student records. The revisions claim to remove SROs’ access to student data, but maintain access for various other agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office itself. There continues to be a lack of transparency. The Sheriff and the District have again excluded the community, including parents from this process. Our coalition also has outstanding concerns about the way that this predictive policing program has and will continue to impact Pasco County families. These are fully addressed in the open letter we sent to the District today, in advance of the school board meeting. We urge the District and Sheriff to carefully consider and engage with the numerous issues that we have identified in our open letter as they move forward.”
“In today’s school board meeting, the District unanimously voted to approve an undisclosed revised data sharing agreement with the Sheriff that does not significantly change the original one. However, the item was not on the agenda, there was no opportunity for public comment, and, to our knowledge, there still has been no opportunity for the public to review and provide feedback on the revised agreement. The PASCO Coalition obtained a copy of the revised agreement through a public records request to the District, and the revisions are insufficient to protect the rights of children whose information will still be accessible to the Sheriff’s Office.”
“The PASCO Coalition is extremely concerned about the continued lack of transparency, community-driven solutions, and public input around this program. Neither the District nor the Sheriff has addressed what the Sheriff is doing with the 20 years of student records in its possession. Further, there is no process to notify parents and guardians about whether their children’s information was provided to the Sheriff, and if so, how it was used. Given the Sheriff’s and District’s admissions about the unfettered access that was permitted for decades, these concerns must be addressed. In addition, questions remain about the ways in which this program especially targets children of color, children with disabilities, and low-income students for police monitoring and surveillance. Those students and their parents or guardians deserve to have their questions answered by the Sheriff and the District.”
“Furthermore, we have no assurances that the District will permanently prevent similar predictive practices from re-emerging once national attention has abated. This was only a revision to the contract that expires at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Nor is it clear that the current agreement has substantially limited access to federally-protected student records by the Sheriff’s Office as a whole, given vague language in the revised agreement that allows the Board to disclose student data to “other appropriate individuals” at its discretion, the fact that other staff members of the Sheriff’s Office will still have access to this protected data, and the absence of any stated parameters around how this data may be used or shared within their office.”
“We need comprehensive policy overhauls and systems of accountability for meaningful reform and to prevent this from happening in the future. That process requires community at the table to design long-term solutions and to begin the process of rebuilding trust in the District and Sheriff’s Office.”