Pubdate: Sun, 01 May 2016
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2016 The Tribune Co.
Author: Anastasia Dawson


It's Relevant to Student Discipline, Employment Policy

TAMPA - City officials toiled over the details for months before 
adopting a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

It's been a month since the regulation took effect, but one segment 
of the community is still wrestling with its reaction to changes that 
make possession no more serious than a traffic ticket in the eyes of 
the law: Hillsborough County schools.

Students likely still will be punished for possession - Hillsborough 
County schools are drugfree for all students and employees - but 
decriminalization could change the way teachers and other employees 
are hired, school officials say. At least in Tampa. "The world is 
changing around us," school board Chairwoman April Griffin said. "We 
need to have a conversation about what it means if you've received a 
citation as opposed to being arrested."

Tampa made the change to avoid sticking offenders with a criminal 
record that could keep them from getting good jobs and to free up 
police and court resources.

The change allows police officers to fine rather than arrest 
offenders 18 or older who are found with up to 20 grams of marijuana. 
As a misdemeanor criminal offense, it was punishable by up to a year 
in jail and a $1,000 fine.

That means the law does not apply to juveniles.

But any students caught with marijuana on school property still are 
subject to disciplinary action from school officials, said district 
spokeswoman Tanya Arja. Usually that means a change in school placement.

Discussion in the school district has centered on how the new law 
will keep students out of the criminal justice system, said Stephanie 
Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom 
Teachers Association.

Baxter-Jenkins wants to hear more about how it could help those with 
blemished records find a new start working in the school district.

"I think it's a fair conversation," Baxter-Jenkins said. "If we would 
change the way we look at things for kids, so we don't get them off 
track for the future, I would think we would want to give the same 
considerations to adults."

Under Tampa's new law, offenders are fined $75 for the first offense, 
$150 for a second offense, $300 for a third and $450 for any 
subsequent violations. As of Tuesday, 65 marijuana citations have 
been issued in the city, including one at Henry B. Plant High School 
and one just outside the University of South Florida.

"I find myself, as a policymaker, really troubled by these city, 
county, federal and state laws, and we're like the sandwich; we're in 
the middle, and our kids are also in that position," said school 
board member Susan Valdes. "We need to be cognizant of hiring 
practices while keeping in consideration these ordinances."

This month, the school board gave preliminary approval to changes 
that toughen the district's drug-free workplace policy. Now employees 
are prohibited from soliciting a purchase of a drug as well as from 
making an actual purchase.

"We had a situation where soliciting a purchase occurred but there 
was no actual purchase," said Mark West, the district's general 
manager of employee relations. "We felt that piece was missing."

The new law, though, could provide some leniency in the way people are hired.

There's nothing in state law that stops schools from hiring people 
with a drug offense on their record. The only hiring ban applies to 
applicants with a string of felony offenses or any misdemeanor 
offense relating to battery of a minor or to luring or enticing a child.

The law does not specifically mention drug offenses.

The Hillsborough district created its own policy saying that any 
applicant with a criminal record cannot be hired until three years 
after the offense occurred, said Chief Human Resources Officer 
Stephanie Woodford.

Possessing a small amount of marijuana in Tampa no longer counts as a 
criminal offense, so it wouldn't bar employment with the district now.

Still, whether an applicant is right for a job is determined on a 
case-bycase basis, Woodford said.

Neither the University of Tampa nor the University of South Florida, 
both in Tampa, plan to make any policy changes because of the new law.

"Illegal drugs aren't permitted," said Stephanie Russell Krebs, dean 
of students for the University of Tampa.

Students can be suspended or expelled from both universities 
depending on the amount of illegal drugs in their possession. At the 
University of Tampa, a first violation could result in a student 
being kicked out of on-campus housing, being placed on "pending 
suspension" status or being enrolled in a mandatory drug assessment 
class with a licensed counselor and charged a $200 prevention fee. 
With a second violation, a student is suspended.

At USF, students spared suspension could be placed on probation and 
restricted from participating in some activities.

USF policy requires that a criminal history background check be 
conducted on prospective employees and that current employees report 
any criminal conviction that occurs during their employment.

But possession of a small amount of marijuana no longer is a criminal 
offense in Tampa, and university spokesman Adam Freeman said 
applicants and employees are not required to report civil infractions.

Some sanctions are still possible for students.

"In accordance with the USF system student-conduct process, any 
violation of a local ordinance, state law or federal law may result 
in a student being sanctioned," Freeman said. "The new city of Tampa 
ordinance does not change that process."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom