LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) – Three students at Seminole Middle School were arrested after authorities say they assaulted two school employees in two separate, but related incidents.
The students have emotional and behavior disorders, according to school officials.
The incident happened on Tuesday, April 18. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the school shortly after 3 p.m. after they received a radio call for help that was sent by the school’s behavior specialist.
“The school’s behavior specialist, Cidney Moore, had requested assistance, but had done so with a voice tone I had not heard her use before and sounded more urgent than her normal request for assistance,” a deputy said in an incident report.
Detectives first interviewed school personnel and Mark McConnell, a staff member who said a 14-year-old student had reached into his pocket and taken his school keys and as this was happening, another 13-year-old student had caused him to fall. Security video shows the student pushing him into the wall when he falls. He did not initially report any injuries, but eventually sought treatment for a sprained right shoulder and a sprained right wrist.
A detective met with the school’s principal who said there was another incident prior to this event that was caught on video surveillance.
The video showed teacher, Jaclyn Rivera, trying to stop a different student from entering her class with other EBD students. The 14-year-old student is seen rushing towards her classroom door and she tries to block his path. He becomes more aggressive, eventually gets by the employee and goes into the classroom for several seconds before he’s carried out by his fellow students. He’s seen pushing the student from the first incident, who stole the keys, across the hall, but that student breaks free and runs into the classroom. The employee tries to block him from entering the classroom once again, and the student begins to struggle violently against her. At one point he shoves her into the classroom and within seconds, the students in the room come to the employees aid and escort the student out of the room.
For several minutes, EBD students are in and out of the building as Rivera follows them around. Most students calm down and go back to class, except for the students involved in altercation that was first reported, which took place at that time.
The students are seen walking towards McConnell as they pass the Rivera’s classroom. One of the students falls behind McConnell and apparently tries to sneak up on him. That’s when he reaches towards McConnell’s pocket, steals his keys and runs for the door. As this is happening, the 13-year-old student charges towards McConnell, body checks him and shoves him backwards, away from the 14-year-old who stole the keys, causing the employee to fall. The detectives said it looked as though McConnell lost his footing when he was pulled down. The victim struck the wall and detectives say the aggressor’s “hand and left forearm are visible on the back of McConnell’s neck as if he was applying pressure.”
The two boys entered the class with the male victim’s keys.
It was at that point the behavior specialist arrived and reported what had happened.
Upon reviewing surveillance footage with detectives, Principal Wendy Bryan said she was shocked by the incidents, but placed blame on the staff members for how they handled the situation.
She said Rivera should have simply let the student into the classroom to avoid causing such a stir. She said McConnell should not have tried to retrieve his keys back from the student. She also took issue with how both of the victims used their hands to block the students. They’re encouraged to use their body and arms instead.
The principal reported the incident to the school board’s Office of Professional Standards, which advised her that the male employee was definitely victimized.
More officials reviewed video of the other incident and agreed that Rivera responded properly.
The detective then decided they should take action, but wanted to speak with those involved before they made any decisions. After speaking with both administrators and the students, they decided to take the three boys into custody. They were transported to Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center (PJAC) via a Prisoner Transportation Unit.
They were charged with battery on school personnel, a felony offense.
Meanwhile, parents were never notified of the incident, but are backing the teachers. “It’s disrespect and intolerable,” says parent Jennifer Neeley. Another parent says having behavior disorders is no reason to lay a hand on anyone else.
The school released a statement in response to the arrests:
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.
Both victims told detectives they felt the school’s disciplinary system was not normal. The male victim said the level of physical aggression at the school is unlike anything he has encountered. The female victim said the incident was “another in a long line of aggressive incidents from students towards staff members,” according to the affidavit. The behavioral specialist who reported the incidents said other teachers, including herself had been struck and shoved by the 13-year-old student involved and that damage had been done to school property, including a broken window.
“I recalled seeing a broken window in the door of room 406 several weeks ago, but every time I asked someone about it they seemed afraid to answer. When I went to the administration and asked I was told it was not big deal and they had dealt with it,” she told detectives.
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