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 Santa Fe High School was hardened with two armed police officers on site and an award-winning active shooter plan. Still 10 died. It is clear these approaches at best serve to stop active shooters, not prevent them. What are you doing to focus on prevention?
- More than 7,000 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 the students?
- The rate of children involuntarily committed under the Baker Act has been steadily increasing as it’s 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
- 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?
- This year’s state mandate to post an armed guard at every school came without funding to actually do this. The presence of law enforcement in schools is also associated with increased arrests for normal misbehavior, like disorderly conduct and school ground fights. And such arrests disproportionately affect our students with disabilities and students of color. Communities have loudly opposed arming staff and districts are scrambling to pay the bill – which will mean programs that might actually prevent mass shootings, rather than respond to them – will suffer. Will you work to remove this mandate? What will you do to ensure it is adequately funded? What will you do to ensure law enforcement are not engaged in routine school discipline?