(AP) In Florida, agreement to reduce student arrests
By CHRISTINE ARMARIO
One of the nation’s largest school districts has reached an agreement with law enforcement agencies and the NAACP to reduce the number of students being charged with crimes for minor offenses.
The agreement with Broward County Public Schools in Florida, which officials planned to announce Tuesday, is one of the first comprehensive plans bringing together district officials, police and the state attorney’s office to create an alternative to the zero-tolerance policies prevalent in many schools. It charges principals rather than school resource officers with being the primary decision makers in responding to student misbehavior.
The move is designed to cut down on what has become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” where students accused of offenses like disrupting class or loitering are suspended, arrested and charged with crimes.
Broward, the nation’s seventh largest district, had the highest number of school-related arrests in Florida in the 2011-2012 school year, according to state data. Seventy-one percent of the 1,062 arrests made were for misdemeanor offenses.
In this South Florida district and others across the country, minority students have been disproportionately arrested, sometimes for the same offenses their white peers received only a warning for. Nationwide, over 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or law enforcement referrals are black or Hispanic, according to U.S. Department of Education data.
The new policy creates a matrix for district officials and school resource officers to follow when a student misbehaves. For non-violent misdemeanors like trespassing, harassment, incidents related to alcohol, possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, administrators are instructed to try and resolve the situation without an arrest. A variety of alternatives, like participation in a week-long counseling program, are designed to address and correct the student’s behavior.
No student would be arrested for a first non-violent misdemeanor, but further offenses will result in graduated levels of school-based interventions. After a fifth incident, students are referred to law enforcement.
Felonies or serious threats will still be handled by police.
The policy went into effect at the beginning of the current school year, and Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said the district has already seen a 41 percent decline in the number of school-related arrests.
Runcie became superintendent two years ago, and said one of the first things he did was look at student achievement and outcomes. One of the data sets that stood out to him the most showed black male students in particular falling behind academically. When he dove further into the data, he found the same group was misrepresented in terms of expulsions and arrests.
Runcie worked with the NAACP to create a new student code of conduct. The NAACP said they had attempted to address student discipline with two previous superintendents, without any success.
The NAACP said they hope the policy will serve as a model for other districts nationwide.
Krezmien said large school districts in particular have struggled to come up with alternatives to zero-tolerance policies because they are often following state guidelines that define what a school disciplinary problem is.
He said creating a policy and implementing it, however, are two distinct challenges, and it will be key for both administrators to receive proper training and for the role of police to be redefined.
Despite data showing the negative consequences of policies that criminalize student misbehavior, Krezmien said there has not been an overall push toward creating zero-tolerance alternatives and said the Broward agreement was unusual.
The U.S. Justice Department and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights have addressed the issue in individual school districts. In Missisippi, a federal judge has scheduled a December 2014 trial for a Justice Department lawsuit that claims there is a “school-to-prison pipeline” in part of the state that locks up students for minor infractions like flatulence or vulgar language.
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