Florida policymakers continue to prioritize policing over supporting students.
At a time when schools are struggling to meet the needs of students and to recruit enough teachers to comply with the state constitution’s class-size requirements, Senate Bill 7030 would allow more education funding to be spent on hardening schools despite evidence that more guns on school campuses do not prevent violence. This is unnecessary - despite the tragic mass shootings we’ve experienced, schools remain one of the safest place for children - only 3 percent of violent youth deaths occur at school - a rate that has been steady for decades.
Last year’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act was an unprecedented expansion of law enforcement reach into schools. For the first time, a gun was mandated in every school. We don’t have the money - or the need - for that. As the MSD Public Safety Commission found, school police, like the officer stationed at Stoneman Douglas that fateful day, are “typically not faced with many high-risk, high-stress situations … As a result, they are not afforded the chance to maintain and exercise their tactical skills other than in training scenarios.”
There is no evidence that armed civilians will be better equipped, yet this bill would mandate sheriffs train them. With overburdened teachers and understaffed schools, school police are managing discipline and playing mentor, blurring lines intended to protect civil rights.
Our students are already feeling the shift. Student arrests have risen for the first time in years, despite juvenile crime rates that continue to fall. More than 1,100 kids were arrested last fiscal year for “disorderly conduct” at school - more than a quarter of all student misdemeanor arrests and a 6 percent increase.
Even though the majority of mass shooters are white males, black and brown students will continue to bear the burden of increased school policing and armed staff. These students are disproportionately seen as threats, pushed out of schools and arrested. Studies have confirmed that Black youth are seen as older and more violent than they are. This begins as early as preschool. This implicit bias contributes to a statewide average school arrest rate for black children that is more than 2.5 times the school arrest rate for white students. It is most pronounced in offenses prone to discretion, like disorderly conduct, where black girls are arrested 8.5 times as often as other girls. Likewise, most unarmed people killed by police are people of color.
Furthermore, Florida also blazed a new trail toward devaluing student rights with this measure. The first state to collect and consolidate student data from across state agencies, including mental health providers, Florida has created a trove of personal information without requiring necessary safeguards to dictate how long this data will follow students or when law enforcement - and the public - may access it. The state’s Department of Education took it further - funding the first statewide contract for active social media monitoring. The state is investing in problematic, unproven mass surveillance, relying on only geography and keywords to identify ‘threats.’
SB 7030 takes yet another dangerous step forward on this path - setting up a workgroup to design a statewide database for threat assessments. Anonymous reporting is already being used as a tool for bullying, and the breadth of threat assessments envisioned by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, including required assessments of all students with Individualized Education Plans for severe behavioral issues, promises to cast a wide net. Such a database will only further stigmatize not only mental health, but also normal child and adolescent behavior.
We know what makes safe schools - positive school climates, where there is mutual respect and trust and access to professionals trained to support their development - counselors, social workers, nurses, psychologists. Diverting scarce resources to guns and policing is counterproductive and dangerous.
Times have changed. Today’s youth are less likely to commit crimes than their parents or grandparents. Our students are more likely to die of suicide than homicide, and we should react accordingly. We should ensure schools provide a healthy safe learning environment for all students, not a police state that prioritizes fear over students’ civil rights and healthy development.
Brief bill analysis:
SB 7030 would:
- Direct the DOE Office of Safe Schools to develop a standardized, statewide behavioral threat assessment instrument for use by all public schools by August 1, 2019.
- Direct the DOE Office of Safe Schools to establish a Statewide Threat Assessment Database Workgroup to make recommendations on developing such a statewide database by December 31, 2019.
- Recommend: what data should be entered, who should have access to enter and view such records, data security, information sharing, cost and implementation plan.
Threat Assessments should be carefully managed and confidential. They should be used to assess threats for credibility and actionability - not to assess and label students.
SB 7030 would:
- Establish a School Hardening & Harm Mitigation Workgroup to propose recommendations by August 1, 2019
- Allow funds allocated for other purposes to be used to improve school safety, including funds allocated for exceptional education services, supplemental academic instruction, classroom technology, and for class-size reduction. This is in addition to the current ability to siphon funds for student transportation, reading instruction and instructional materials.
- School hardening measures lead to decreased student engagement and increased mistrust, anxiety and misbehavior.
- Schools need financial support. They need funding for infrastructure, educational materials and teachers. They need school social workers, counselors, nurses and school psychologists with manageable caseloads who are not pulled into nonprofessional tasks like test proctoring.
- Diverting funds from traditional and necessary school functions to increase student surveillance is counterproductive at best.
Expands Guardian Program
- Schools may only use guardians (armed staff) if the local school board and sheriff agree.
- Some school boards would like to arm staff, but their local sheriff disagrees.
SB 7030 would:
- Require local sheriffs to establish guardian programs if local school board votes to implement a program.
- Allow contract employees and teachers to become armed guardians.
- Potential disparate impact - Studies show that Black youth are seen as older and more dangerous than they are. The Court has held that Stand Your Ground applies to law enforcement,
- Diverts funding from traditional school endeavors and social-emotional learning that could effectively prevent school violence.
- School hardening measures erode school climate, reducing student participation and increasing anxiety, mistrust and misbehavior.