Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Florida State Conference NAACP leads fight to change negative impact of Zero Tolerance Policy on Black and Minority children in the State of Florida

Guest Posted by Leon Russell and Adora Obi Nweze

In 2005 and 2006, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP along with the Advancement Project and the NAACP LDF saw stories about a five year old girl being arrested at her elementary school by the St. Petersburg Police Department

As a result, the organizations became concerned about the issue of juveniles and their treatment by the local school districts.

Together the three organiozations conducted Town Hall meetings in six school districts around the state of Florida. Those districts were Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Duval, Hillsborough, and Pinellas Counties. The results of those meetings were outlined in a document called "Arresting Development".

The findings outlined several issues including the fact Black and Hispanic students were being disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action based on the application of Zero Tolerance policies, which had been created as the result of a state law on the subject. Further, the school district's administration of these policies was directly resulting in a disproportionately high number of Black and Hispanic students being introduced to the Juvenile Justice System. Indirectly, there was a drastic negative impact on graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students statewide because of the negative impact of these policies.

Based on these findings, the State Conference, the Advancement Project, and the NAACP LDF began to work with school districts to modify their policies and to work with the Florida State Legislature to change the law in order to reduce the negative disproportionate impact.

While this work was going on, the Governor named the Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice reform and directed the Commission to conduct a series of hearings throughout the state aimed at identifying recommedations for changes to improve the way that Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice deals with children in the system. The Blueprint Commission developed 52 strong recommendations which included the need to modify the application of the State Zero Tolerance policy. The Florida State Conference was represented on the Commission and was involved in crafting the Commission's recommendations.

The NAACP worked with stakeholders such as the Blueprint Commission, State Legislators, and other organizations to bring about specific legislative reform. In April of 2009, the Florida State Legislature adopted a reform bill modifying the Zero Tolerance statute and requiring each school district to develop and implement new policies designed to reduce the number of students suspended, expelled and referred to law enforcement. The intent of the legislation is to eliminate the racial disparities in the application of the policy, reduce the rates of Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) with law enforcement, and ultimately to increase the Graduation Rates among Florida Students.

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