As school districts across the state figure out how to meet the state’s mandate to post an armed guard at every school and candidates begin lobbying for your vote, use these questions to guide your advocacy. They can be used in public meetings, candidate forums and one-on-one discussions. Choose those that are most relevant to the local scene and/or to your individual passion and interest. If you are comfortable doing so, customize them to your district, using local data.
Questions for school officials, elected officials and candidates:
- There is a big focus on hardening schools in light of recent mass shootings, but these efforts do not prevent them, and there is evidence that they make schools less inclusive and erode school climate. What are you doing to focus on prevention?
- More than 8,000 students were arrested at school last year. More than a thousand of those arrests were for disorderly conduct. Another 1400 arrests were for school ground fights with no injuries. These arrests will forever alter their lives. Studies show the presence of law enforcement in schools increases the rate of arrests for such disruptions. What are you doing to ensure law enforcement is focused on protecting the school, not policing students?
- The rate of children involuntarily committed under the Baker Act has more than doubled in the last 15 years, and is increasingly being used as yet another way to remove problematic students from the classroom. What are you doing to ensure this tool intended to protect our most vulnerable children is not misused?
- Last year, more than 333,000 students were excluded from their regular classroom, with countless other families “encouraged” to voluntarily move their students to alternative schools. Studies show this time away from the classroom does not reduce problem behavior and actually increases the risk of future arrest and decreases the student’s chances of graduation. What are you doing to reduce schools’ reliance on pushing at-risk students out of the classroom?
- When children are removed from their regular classroom, their risk of dropping out of school and of being arrested increase. What are you doing to ensure those students who cannot safely attend class are given the tools they need to learn how to appropriately handle life’s struggles?
- We know that school policing and exclusionary discipline policies disproportionately affect youth of color, youth with disabilities and LGBTQ youth. Florida’s black youth are more than 3 times as likely to be arrested; our students with learning disabilities are nearly 8 times as likely to be arrested and LGBTQ youth are more likely to report feeling unsafe at school. What are you doing to ensure schools are safe for everyone?
- School culture is a key predictor of violence and crime. When students feel respected, challenged, trusted and safe, they are more likely to excel academically. What are you doing to ensure the district fosters a culture of mutual respect and welcoming learning environments?
- In your opinion, what do our at-risk students need to excel and become future leaders? What have you done to meet this need?
Questions for State Legislators
- Florida has no minimum age of arrest, and has repeatedly made national headlines for arresting elementary kids, including Kindergarteners. What will you do to ensure little kids are not arrested?
- This year, despite the focus on safe schools and additional funding for security and some mental health programs, per pupil spending remained stagnant. There is no district in the state that meets the recommended school mental health professional to student ratio. The few professionals we do have are burdened with administrative duties, including proctoring tests. What will you do to ensure Tallahassee adequately funds schools to provide enough trained mental health professionals to serve students’ needs?
- There are no minimum standards for police officers or security personnel to work in schools. Yet, once there, they are often relied on to subdue disruptive students. This leads to unnecessary arrests, unnecessary escalation of nonviolent behavior and unnecessary involuntary psychiatric holds of children. What will you do to ensure anyone working in schools is trained to work appropriately with children?
- The doubling of police officers in school has led to an increase in student arrests, even while youth arrests outside of school, along with most measures of crime, continue to fall. School districts increased the number of police officers in schools to comply with a state law mandating an officer or security personnel at every school. Will you work to remove this mandate? What will you do to ensure law enforcement are not engaged in routine school discipline?