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School board approves changes to district’s zero tolerance policy

By Staff | Sep 23, 2009

With a series of revisions to the Lee County School District’s zero tolerance policy, the school board is hoping to eliminate the number of students who are incarcerated for school-related crimes.
The board unanimously agreed to revise the district’s current policy to adhere to changes in Florida statutes. The revision would allow staff to find other ways to address disruptive behavior besides referring students to law enforcement or recommending them for expulsion.
“This is revising that policy and getting in line with Florida statutes,” said Superintendent James Browder. “The intent is to minimize the amount of youngsters arrested in the state of Florida.”
During the 2009 session, the Florida Legislature addressed changes in school policies because, according to the bill, students should not enter the correctional system for petty or misdemeanor acts such as fighting or disrupting class — infractions that typically fall under the responsibility of school administrators.
The bill was drafted in August 2008 when the Department of Juvenile Justice hosted a “Zero Tolerance Summit” where officials from across the state joined together to discuss the issue.
Each year approximately 600 students in Lee County are incarcerated.
School board policy currently addresses staff procedure when dealing with students who have committed homicide, sexual battery, armed robbery, drug use, kidnapping and other serious infractions. These criminal violations will not be changed or taken out of the policy.
Instead, the new policy simply states that any infractions not listed in the policy are considered “petty acts of misconduct” that are not required to be reported to law enforcement, therefore closing the door on any ambiguity.
According to the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization that worked with the state to reform zero tolerance policies, there were more than 21,000 students arrested in Florida public schools in 2008. Seventy percent were arrested for misdemeanor offenses.
The organization also reported that harsh, zero tolerance laws were 2.5 times more likely to affect blacks. Experts point out that incarcerated students are not afforded the same educational opportunities as traditional students.
The changes take effect Oct. 7.