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 ACLU of Florida Media Office, media@aclufl.org, (786) 363-2737

March 22, 2018

Letters and interactive maps highlight appellate court ruling that demands school districts provide students sent to alternative schools with the procedural safeguards outlined in the Florida Administrative Procedures Act before they are denied proper education

In letters sent to all 67 county school districts and six special school districts in Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida calls on all superintendents to implement a recent appellate court decision impacting the due process of rights of thousands of Florida students in alternative schools. The letters explain that the court has ruled that students who have undergone “disciplinary reassignment” and have been placed in an alternative school have the same due process rights as students who have been expelled and that alternative placements sufficiently affect students’ substantial interests and right to a high-quality education to justify the procedural protections of the Florida Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The ACLU of Florida also published interactive maps detailing the rate and racial disparities of student alternative placements by Florida school districts.

This ruling from Florida’s First District Court of Appeals was made in favor of S.J., a minor and student at West Florida High School, who had sued the Escambia County School Board in 2016 for excluding him from his school after an incident without the option to attend another traditional school. Instead, he was given a disciplinary reassignment and forced to carry out his education at either an alternative or a virtual school, which is the same consequence many expelled students receive.  S.J. then requested a final written order, which would have allowed him to appeal this decision, but was denied on the basis that the school board wasn’t legally obligated to provide him the procedural due process rights of the APA since he was not facing expulsion.

“For years, Florida school districts have used the guise of disciplinary reassignments to circumvent student’s procedural due process rights—a practice that disproportionately affects students of color at a rate 50% higher than white students,” stated Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida. “We are glad the court’s findings concluded that any student facing placement in an ‘alternative education setting’ is protected by the APA and upheld the right to due process and quality education for all Florida students.”

In the letters, the ACLU includes data from the Florida Department of Education that reveals that about 7,000 students are removed from their traditional school setting for up to three semesters and placed in an alternative or virtual school, where they receive inferior education, on an annual basis. 

 “We know that exclusionary discipline is counterproductive. Students pushed out of their schools are less likely to graduate and more likely to be arrested. We also know that such practices disproportionately impact students of color, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities. We understand that schools need to maintain a safe, productive learning environment. This can be accomplished with a focus on helping our students develop the tools they need to navigate life’s hurdles through programs like restorative justice and access to qualified mental health professionals,” explained Michelle Morton, juvenile justice policy coordinator at the ACLU of Florida. “Whatever schools call their exclusionary discipline practice, it is equally harmful and violates young Floridians’ right to a high-quality education. When school boards believe it is necessary to push students out of school, they must give those students a chance to fight for their right to be there. Now is the time for school districts to revisit their procedures to ensure they comply with this important court ruling and current best practices. Our students deserve better.”

An interactive map displaying the rate of student alternative placements by school districts between 2015-2016 is available here.

A copy of the letter to school districts is available here.

A copy of the letter to the Florida Department of Education is available here.

A copy of the appellate court ruling is available here.

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