Pasco Sheriff’s Office SROs no longer able to access student information

LAND O’ LAKES — The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Pasco County Schools amended an agreement last week that regulates how student information may be accessed by the law enforcement agency.

The Pasco County School Board unanimously approved the updated School Resource Officer School Safety Program Funding Agreement during its May 4 regular meeting. Both parties approved the agreement last August.

The amendment comes in the aftermath of multiple Tampa Bay Times reports detailing the Pasco Sheriff’s Office’s access to student information related to the department’s intelligence-led policing tactics.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning released a joint statement May 4 explaining the updated agreement and its voluntary nature. The release includes a statement from Nocco refuting various media claims.

“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,” Nocco says in the release. “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.”

The updates agreed to last week deny SROs access to student data, including grades, attendance and discipline history. 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.

According to the press release, the amendments were crafted as a result of a review of agreements between the school district and sheriff’s office, “with a particular emphasis on the legislatively required sharing of information as required by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.”

While SROs are no longer able to acquire student information, that doesn’t mean all access is eliminated. The release explains that the sheriff’s office U.S. Department of Justice grant-funded analyst will continue to have access to student information, as the sheriff’s office is a member of the legislatively required threat-assessment team. “This analyst also will continue to provide the school district with appropriate law enforcement information that impacts the safety and security of students, schools, and community,” the release states.

The release continues: “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’s campus.”

This access will no longer include access to grades, the release states.

“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,” as stated in the release.

The joint statement goes on to state that the updates “will have no impact on the safety and security of students, faculty and staff in Pasco County’s schools.”

In the release, Browning is quoted as saying, “This agreement strikes an appropriate balance between sharing and the continued safeguarding of student privacy. Our partnership with the Sheriff's Office is strong and our students and staff will continue to benefit from our excellent working relationship.”