Youth Justice Coalition Prepares for School Board Meeting Presentations on Changes in School Discipline Policies

The Escambia Youth Justice Coalition (EYJC) held a Town Hall Meeting on Saturday March 15th at 12 noon at the First United Methodist Church downtown campus. The focus of the meeting was designed to receive reports from agencies focused on juvenile justice programs, updates on the coalition’s reform advocacy efforts, and preparation for EYJC member presentations at the Escambia County School Board meeting on March 25th.

The theme of the Town Hall Meeting was “PUSH BACK AGAINST SCHOOL PUSH OUT”! Presenters at the meeting included Paul Wallis, Circuit 1 Chief Probation Officer of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Officer Cramer of the City of Pensacola Police Department, Stephanie Langer, Staff Attorney, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Keyontay Humphries, ACLU Regional Organizer. Present for the meeting were Linda Moultrie, President of the School Board, representation of the Pensacola Branch of the NAACP, the Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce, First United Methodist Church, Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church, the League of Women Voters, the Coalition for Justice of Northwest Florida, retired Escambia County school district instructors, school district students, and interested residents.

Paul Wallis, Chief Probation Officer of DJJ Circuit 1, brought the group up to date on the Civil Citation Program which provides youth with first time non-violent misdemeanors to receive intervention services at the earliest stages of delinquency. Youth who successfully complete the required sanctions can leave the program without an arrest record. Civil Citations save taxpayers millions of dollars. During fiscal year 2011-2012, 26, 210 first-time misdemeanors were committed. Twenty-five per-cent (25%) received civil citations resulting in a cost savings of $32 million according to a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice press release. City of Pensacola Police Officer Cramer is the Student Resource Officer at Pensacola High School (PHS). He reported that PHS has had only one student arrest all year, and described the type of student behavior that would require a response from the SRO.

Stephanie Langer, Staff Attorney, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, gave an update on the resources available to assist organization representatives and visiting community residents in their effort to assist in the Coalition’s mission of supporting an alternative system to arresting children and placing them in incarceration. She described a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Education and Justice to help states, school districts, and the schools themselves to enhance school climate and improve the practice of school discipline. Ms. Langer also described the Florida Department of Education’s adoption of different academic goals for white and minority students as discriminatory and lowers the expectation of minority students to achieve. Keyontay Humphries, ACLU Regional Organizer, and local coordinator of the EYJC gave an update on the following topics:
• Requesting an evaluation of the School District’s PBIS Program
• Train the Trainer Program for Peer Mediation
• Florida Legislative Bills impacting Juvenile Justice Programs

Keyontay Humphries urged persons concerned about school discipline in the Escambia County School District and a quality educational environment for students to attend the District School Board meetings and voice your concerns. She also reiterated that it is important to put Escambia’s juvenile prison commitments in a national and international perspective: The U.S. leads the world with a per capita incarceration rate of 336 per 100,000 youth, and Florida is virtually tied with California as the juvenile incarceration “leader” in the U.S. This makes Escambia’s shameful juvenile prison commitment rate not only the leader in the state, but the U.S. and world.

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