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Since 2005, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP has been working throughout the state to eliminate Florida’s “schoolhouse to jailhouse track.” Their focus on this issue began in response to an incident in St. Petersburg, FL, in which five-year-old Ja'eisha Scott was pinned down, handcuffed, and arrested by police officers for throwing a temper tantrum at school. The NAACP partnered with Advancement Project and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to organize a series of public hearings throughout the state to discuss the school discipline crisis in Florida.

There were five hearings altogether, covering the counties of Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Pinellas. The hearings drew hundreds of parents, students, school administrators, juvenile justice personnel, and other community members. Those offering testimony – including prosecutors and juvenile court judges – expressed grave concerns that schools too often impose punishments that needlessly remove students from school and also rely too much on law enforcement and the courts to address minor student misbehavior.

With the information gathered from these hearings, the NAACP, Advancement Project, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund published a report in April 2006, Arresting Development: Addressing the School Discipline Crisis in Florida. This report has served as a catalyst for change throughout the state. For example, in 2007 a state Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice conducted its own hearings and issued recommendations stressing the importance of eliminating “zero tolerance” for all but the most serious offenses, and instead using alternatives to suspension and other less punitive options.

Over the last three years, the NAACP and Advancement Project have been meeting with the Superintendents and senior staff from each of the profiled school districts to implement the recommendations from Arresting Development. Through that work, numerous improvements have been made in the target counties; for example:

  • The number of school-based delinquency referrals in the six target counties went down 28% in just two years.
  • In Palm Beach County, the number of school-based delinquency referrals decreased nearly 50%.
  • Miami-Dade County cut the number of out-of-school suspensions nearly in half.

In February 2008, the Florida NAACP and Advancement Project met with Governor Charlie Crist and the heads of the Florida Department of Education and Department of Juvenile Justice to discuss school discipline reform at the state level. At that time, we recommended that the state zero tolerance law be overhauled. As a result of those meetings, the Department of Juvenile Justice sponsored a statewide “Zero Tolerance Summit” in August 2008, during which a taskforce was formed to draft new law.

In April 2009, that new law was passed by the Florida legislature. This represents a significant victory for the Florida NAACP and Advancement Project. The new law makes five important changes to the old law:

  • It discourages schools from arresting students for minor offenses such as classroom disruption and fighting;
  • It encourages schools to use alternatives to expulsion and referral to law enforcement such as restorative justice;
  • It requires schools to take the particular circumstances of the student’s misconduct into account before issuing punishment;
  • It requires every school district to give students the right to appeal disciplinary actions taken against them; and
  • It responds to the harsh truth of racial disparities in discipline in Florida by stating that zero tolerance policies must apply equally to all races.

The law requires districts to rewrite their discipline codes and change their zero tolerance policies. The NAACP and Advancement Project will continue to work at the local and state level to ensure that the new policies that are written do not unnecessarily criminalize youth.

Arresting Development
Statewide hearing flyer
Miami-Dade fact sheet
Recommendations presented to Governor
Recommendations presented to Hillsborough County Superintendent
Consequences of juvenile arrest or conviction
Op-ed by Adora Obi Nweze and Judith Browne-Dianis (4/26/2008)
Text of 2009 Zero Tolerance reform bill passed and signed by Gov. Crist in June 2009

For more information, contact:

Adora Obi Nweze
Florida State Conference of the NAACP
397 West Church Street
Orlando, FL 32801
[email protected]

Jim Freeman
Staff Attorney
Advancement Project
1220 L Street, NW
Suite 850
Washington, DC 20005
T: 202-728-9557
[email protected]