Florida is home to three of the top 10 largest school districts in the United States, and five of the top 20 largest school districts:
- Miami-Dade County Public Schools is ranked 5;
- Broward County Public Schools is ranked 7;
- Hillsborough County Public Schools is ranked 9;
- Orange County Public Schools is ranked 11; and
- School District of Palm Beach County is ranked 12.
With so many students attending school, it should be no surprise that a number of those students are arrested for school-related incidents, with the 10 most frequent offenses being for:
- Non-aggravated assault or battery;
- Misdemeanor drug offenses;
- Disorderly conduct;
- Aggravated assault and battery;
- Weapons or firearms offenses;
- Felony drug offenses;
- Grand larceny;
- Burglary; and
- Petit larceny.
The Statistics on Florida School Arrests
According to a 2011 Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) report, in the 2004-05 school year, 28,008 students were arrested for school-related incidents. That number dropped to 20,223 arrests in 2008-09, and dropped even further in 2011-12, with 13,870 arrests – a 50 percent decrease in an eight-year period.
In a 2015 press release from the Florida DJJ, “the number of school-based arrests dropped another 14 percent in 2013-14 resulting in a five year decline of 36 percent” and marking “the lowest levels of school based delinquency in Florida in ten years.”
While this is obviously great news, it’s important to note that one of the main reasons for the decline in arrests is due to school districts issuing alternative punishments such as treatment programs or civil citations – often including fines or community service – for non-violent misdemeanors. If the student follows through on their citation, no arrest will appear on their record.
Although school arrests are down and are continuing to drop year after year, there is still a disproportionate amount of arrests for black students.
Palm Beach County is 58 percent white, 19 percent black, and 21 percent Hispanic. In Palm Beach County schools, however, 71 percent of students arrested are black, 17 percent are white, and 12 percent are Hispanic.
It’s not much different in Broward County either. The population is 29 percent black but they account for 74 percent of the arrests. White students make up 40 percent of the population but only 14 percent of arrests, and Hispanics fill in the rest.
Some counties, like Alachua County in the Gainesville area, are even worse. Alachua County’s population is 253,000, which is 64 percent white, 21 percent black, and 8 percent Hispanic. When you look at their school arrests, though, 84 percent are black, 12 percent are white, and 4 percent are Hispanic.
What Is Florida Doing About Racial Bias and School Arrests?
While many acknowledge that racial bias is a problem, they also acknowledge that there isn’t an easy fix for this unfortunate situation.
The DJJ has created an entire office – the Disproportionate Minority Contact office – in order to address these issues. They created a new training program for school police officers that tackles officer communication with minority students and encourages officers to issue citations instead of arrests whenever the students are eligible.
The DJJ can also make recommendations to the court on an individual case basis and tries to make sure racial bias doesn’t affect these recommendations. They created a rubric to figure out the best recommendation by taking “into account factors like a student’s past behavior; evidence of anti-social attitudes; anti-social peers; personality issues like impulsivity, low self-control and risk-taking; a history of illegal behavior; problems at work or school; family circumstances and how a student spends their time outside of school hours; and whether the student has a substance abuse problem.”
While the DJJ is hoping to use these practices to reduce racial disparity in school arrests, more research and work will have to be done because this problem will not be resolved overnight or any time soon. However, this racial bias isn’t just a Florida issue, it’s an American issue that can be seen in schools across the country.
What Can I Do If My Child Is Arrested at a Florida School?
If your child is arrested at school, that arrest and the consequences that follow could affect the rest of your child’s life. That’s why it’s important to reach out to an experienced Florida juvenile defense attorney as soon as possible. Your skilled attorney will listen to the details of your case and determine the best way to proceed to fight your child’s charges so you and your child can put this matter behind you and move on with your lives.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.