Pasco school district faces federal probe after sharing student information with sheriff’s office

The U.S. Department of Education is taking a closer look at a Pasco County School District and Pasco County Sheriff’s Office program that has some parents and teachers upset. The controversy stems from the question of what student information is being shared with the sheriff’s office and what that information is being used for.

Federal officials have opened the investigation into Pasco County schools to determine whether or not they broke federal law by sharing students' information with the sheriff’s office.

This program came to light last November following an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times. Through this program, the school district shares students’ information with the sheriff’s office, including details such as grades, attendance, and if they’re friends with anyone who might be in trouble with the law. The Times found that the sheriff’s office then allegedly used that information to compile a list of students whom they think might "fall into a life of crime."

The program was dubbed secretive as many parents didn’t know it existed in the first place, which raised a lot of questions. 

However, Sheriff Chris Nocco said the program is not sharing students’ personal information. 

"The school resource officer has the information that is the same as the teachers in the school, everybody else," Nocco said. "Where the whole controversy -- where people are trying to create controversy -- is that they think that patrol deputies, detectives have their children’s information. That’s not true, and that’s unfortunately where the lies are coming in." 

Sheriff Nocco insisted that the controversy stems from misinformation. 

"When Marjorie Stoneman Douglas happened, everybody said we need to share information. We need to work together," he explained. "We have one of the tightest bonds with our school districts because we’re helping kids. We don’t care if a kid has straight As or straight Fs. We don’t worry about grades when it comes to criminal aspects on the street because we do not investigate cases based off of grades."

The sheriff went on to say that they use information such as criminal records, not grades, to compile their lists. He added that their information can actually help alert the school to a student’s possible mental health issues or drug problems. By notifying the school, they can then get those students' help.

On Tuesday morning, the school district provided the following statement to FOX 13:

"We will be happy to respond to any questions the USDOE may have. Their knowledge of our agreements with the Sheriff’s Office appears to be based on recent news stories, which do not provide a full picture.

Our agreements include safeguards for the proper use of student information and are designed to provide supports to students who are at risk. Our longstanding relationship with the Sheriff’s Office has always been based on a shared goal of keeping our campuses safe and seeking positive outcomes for students."