How much freedom do students have to protest in school?
Can homeschooled students participate in clubs and activities at public schools?
Will Facebook and Twitter posts affect a student getting a job or into college?
What can students do about bullying?
Those where just some of the tough questions asked school and local officials by youngsters participating in the Palm Harbor Library’s Teen Town Hall on Thursday night.
Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche, Palm Harbor University High School Principal Christen Tonry, Tarpon Springs High School Principal Clint Herbic, Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation events manager at The Centre Trish Harrison, and Pinellas County Sheriff School Resource Officer Jeff Cuttitta fielded a series of questions at the Town Hall, sponsored by the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Committee. The question-and-answer session was moderated by Dr. David Liebert, chairman of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Psychology at St. Petersburg College Tarpon Springs Campus.
Ken Peluso, a member of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, told youngsters to get involved in their community, because “you will mold our future.” Commissioner Roche added “you are in fact our future. If you bought a soda today, you are a taxpayer, and that means you have skin in the game.”
One spirited question came from a youngster who asked the principals to compare Palm Harbor University’s IB program with Tarpon High's Cambridge Program. Tarpon’s Principal Herbic told youngsters Palm Harbor’s IB program may be more comfortable for the students who want structured academics, while Tarpon’s Cambridge plan is more flexible in the academic and other courses a student must take.
In an answer to questions about the FCAT examination, PHU Principal Tonry told youngsters that the state’s standardized testing program will soon be replaced by an exam that compares Florida students against those on a national level. In addressing a question about how school budget cuts might affect the arts, the two principals told youngsters the good news is that voters passed a referendum to fund more of the arts in schools.
When asked a series of questions about what type of protests and freedom of speech are allowed in school, the two principals told the teens before protesting they prefer that students come to them to see if the problem can be addressed peacefully. Herbic told youngsters sometimes all the principal has to do is speak with the person perceived to be causing a problem and an issue can be resolved, while other times it is not that easy, even for the principal.
Tonry added that freedom of speech outside school is not viewed the same as regulations followed in school. There are School Board policies and rules that have to be followed, so as not to disrupt the school day or impact the rights of other students or staff.
A homeschooled youngster wanted to know what school activities were open to him and others who did not take traditional classes. Herbic advised homeschooled students can participate in clubs and activities just like traditional students, such as the school band. The School Board website even offers information about services to homeschooled youngsters, he said.
Deputy Cuttitta advised youngsters to be very careful about what they put on social media, because he has read and seen some ridiculous things on Facebook. “If you don’t think future employers or college are going to look you up, you are wrong,” he told them. “And once you put photos or a bad choice of words out there on the Internet, those things are there forever.”
He also told the teens in attendance not to wait if they hear about bullying or someone contemplating suicide or violence. “Tell someone what you have seen or heard,” he said. “If it is addressed early it can be taken care of sometimes by just someone talking to that person.” Herbic agreed that it is better to handle the issue early before it simmers or gets worse. Schools have a strict policy against bullying, he added.
The students heard that the future of textbooks is to be found in E-books and Kindles, but not all schools yet have the technology. They also heard about the importance of attending college. Roche told students to make a deal with your parents promising that if you get all “A’s” and a scholarship, they will buy you a car to get to college.