MIAMI, FL - The ACLU of Florida, Advancement Project, and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP have just released findings on their study of the ongoing harmful impacts of Florida schools’ “zero-tolerance” policies. The study, entitled “Still Haven’t Shut Off the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Evaluating the Impact of Florida’s New Zero-Tolerance Law,” shows that although the state took a significant step forward by amending its harsh zero-tolerance law in 2009, meaningful reform has still not reached most of the schools – and students – across the state.
SB 1540 revised Florida’s zero-tolerance law by urging Florida schools to limit the use of expulsions and referrals to law enforcement for minor offenses and to address school behavior in less damaging, more developmentally appropriate ways. The law also expressly recognized that zero-tolerance policies must apply equally to all students, regardless of economic status, race, or disability. However, after studying the school discipline policies of 55 school districts across the state, as well as the available data following the passage of SB 1540, the authors of the study conclude that the implementation of the new law has fallen substantially short of what is needed to adequately address the over-criminalization of Florida’s youth and the over-reliance on exclusionary discipline by Florida’s schools.
“This research shows clearly that, contrary to recommendations of the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Blueprint Commission, many school districts are needlessly referring too many students to the criminal justice system,” stated Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “These policies are called the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ for a reason and they are funneling our children out of school and into the arms of the juvenile and criminal justice system – denying many Florida children the right to a quality education.”
“Unfortunately, the promise of SB 1540 has been unfulfilled and this study makes it clear that we need to demand more substance be put into the law,” said Adora Obi Nweze, President of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP. “In accordance with the NAACP’s policies, there must be incentives and sanctions in place to motivate our districts to eliminate zero tolerance, develop more humane alternatives that are proven to positively impact school climate and academic success, and eliminate racial disparities.”
The study includes the following data:
· Nearly half of all Florida school districts had more or the same number of referrals to the Department of Juvenile Justice following the passage of SB 1540 than they had the year before.
· 67% of student referrals to the juvenile justice system were for misdemeanor offenses, meaning there were over 12,000 referrals just for these lower-level offenses.
· Racial disparities in referrals to the juvenile justice system actually got worse after the passage of SB 1540.
· In spite of the new law, most school districts’ policies still allow for extremely severe punishments – such as arrest, referral to law enforcement, and expulsion – for relatively minor infractions.
In light of these findings, the report concludes with recommendations to the Florida Legislature, Departments of Education and Juvenile Justice, and school districts for the implementation of proven policies and practices that can ensure that Florida public schools provide a safe and effective learning environment for all Florida students.
“Zero tolerance is a failed policy that is both ineffective and counter-productive,” said Jim Freeman, Director of the Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Project at Advancement Project. “By following the lead of other districts and schools around the country, Florida can reduce the dropout rate, build safer and more effective schools, limit the number of youth entering the juvenile and criminal justice systems, use the State’s law enforcement agencies more efficiently, save taxpayer dollars, and build healthier communities throughout the state.”
A PDF of the report, “Still Haven’t Shut Off the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Evaluating the Impact of Florida’s New Zero-Tolerance Law,” is available HERE
About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
About Advancement Project
Advancement Project is an innovative civil rights law, policy, and communications “action tank” that advances universal opportunity and a just democracy for those left behind in America. We believe that sustainable progress can be made when multiple tools—law, policy analysis, strategic communications, technology, and research— are coordinated with grassroots movements.
About the Florida State Conference of the NAACP
Founded in 1909 by a multiracial group of activists, the NAACP was poised for a long, tumultuous and rewarding history. From the ballot box to the classroom, the dedicated workers, organizers, and leaders fought long and hard to ensure that the voices of African Americans would be heard. The fundamental goal of the NAACP’s education advocacy agenda is to provide all students access to quality education.