Florida Bill Strikes Zero Tolerance
Zero Tolerance for Cell Phones
KXAN News in Austin, TX reported last week that a student in Copperas Cove High School, part of Copperas Cove Independent School District, was suspended for accepting a call from his father during class.
The twist? His father was calling from Iraq, where he's presently serving in the military, and claims to have cleared it with the school's principal in advance. The student was suspended for two days, and the blemish remains on his record.
A bill filed April 18 in the Florida House of Representatives aims to prevent further harm from zero tolerance policies that have caused children to be expelled and, in some cases, arrested for violating school rules. CS/HB 7087 revises state juvenile justice statutes and provisions and, among other things, strikes all references to zero tolerance in schools and specifies that students should be expelled and referred to law enforcement only for "serious criminal offenses."
Under present law, which became effective in 2001, schools in Florida, as in other states, are required to adopt zero-tolerance policies for violations of school policies that may not bear any resemblance to laws in the outside world. For example, in various states, students have been expelled and arrested for bringing butter knives to school in violation of zero tolerance against "weapons" on campuses. Some have been suspended for bringing children's vitamins to school in violation of zero tolerance on "drugs." Aside from state laws, schools throughout the country have also taken zero tolerance further by adopting non-mandated zero-tolerance policies on their own for such offenses as using cell phones on campus. (See sidebar.)
But CS/HB 7087, drafted by the House Policy & Budget Council, Safety & Security Council, and Rep. Mitch Needelman, and sponsored by seven other House members, eliminates "zero tolerance" from all provisions related to school violence and substance abuse while continuing to require schools to maintain policies for crime and victimization, as well as substance abuse.
The bill also mandates that students be expelled and referred to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system for "serious criminal" offenses, as opposed to the previous wording, which specified only "offenses" (i.e., not necessarily criminal and not necessarily serious).
The bill passed the Safety & Security council 14-0 with one missed vote April 1. It passed the Policy & Budget Council 31-0 with four missed votes April 15. The bill was based on recommendations from a January 2008 report by the Blueprint Commission from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice entitled "Getting Smart about Juvenile Justice in Florida." (A PDF of the report is available here.)
The report found, "Public school systems--themselves under stress--increasingly are using Zero Tolerance practices to send youth into the juvenile justice system rather than apply alternative methods of discipline."
Florida schools, the report said, have been allowed to define their own boundaries for zero tolerance, leading to discrepancies from district to district. In two counties in Florida (Gilchrist and Putnam), for example, a full 6 percent of the entire student body had been referred to the juvenile justice system in the 2005-2006 school year.
Further, according to the report, referrals from schools based on zero tolerance policies seem to target minority populations.
"Apart from the inconsistency of Zero Tolerance rules and applications, the policies tend to increase minority over- representation within the juvenile justice system. Black students in 2004-2005 received 46 percent of out of school suspensions and police referrals, but comprised 22.8 percent of the student population statewide."
The complete report, including recommendations, key findings, and commission membership, can be found here.
The complete bill, with substitutions and amendments, can be downloaded in PDF form from the Florida House of Representatives here.
Further details about the bill, including updated actions, votes, sponsors, amendments, substitutions, and other information can be found here.
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