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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Arguments for and against the Hillsborough security plan

17

December

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union doesn't fully understand the Hillsborough County school district's security plan and is using faulty logic to knock it down, says the district's security chief.

Rebutting a letter from Col. Michael Pheneger of the ACLU, David Friedberg wrote that despite the possibility that more guards will lead to more student arrests, he has proposed action to stop prosecuting students for misdemeanor marijuana possession. The overall goal of the district is to provide a safe learning environment and avoid sending children into the criminal justice system, he wrote.

Here's the letter from Friedberg -- who is retiring in early 2014 -- followed by Pheneger's letter.

Friedberg's letter:

First, I want to honor Colonel Pheneger - for his honorable service to our great Country as an officer in the USA, as I have as done as an officer with the USAF.  Second, I agree with several of the Colonel’s points regarding his “School to prison pipeline” analogies. I also solicit his support of my position to help create the establishment of issuing civil citations or a Juvenile Alternative to Arrest Program citation for first-time juvenile misdemeanor possession of marijuana situations here in Hillsborough County, as has been done by many districts in the State.

Having said this, I also would like to note that I take particular exception to the context, if not the verbatim statements made by Colonel Pheneger:

1) “There is little evidence that the presence of SROs will deter potential shooters. In virtually every case, the resolution of shooting incidents required the introduction of regular police agencies. SROs at Columbine and campus police at Virginia Tech did not prevent those tragedies.” Again, while I agree with the fact that SROs did not prevent the murders at Columbine and Virginia Tech, do we know how many additional bystander lives WERE SAVED by mere fact the police/emergency responders were present on those campuses? Also, as the Colonel knows all too well, there is also no way to factually demonstrate how many violent or criminal incidents SROs have PREVENTED by simply being visual or present on a campus.  Using the faulty logic that “there is little evidence that the presence of SROs will deter potential shooters,” should we reduce the size of city and county law enforcement agencies when crime simply reflects a downward trend?  Using this faulty logic, since we (our Nation) has experienced presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations, BUT since they were many years ago, and NOT all that frequent, should we simply reduce or eliminate the size of the US Secret Service? And, the fact that we have schools WITHOUT any arrests of our juveniles, should we therefore eliminate the SRO positions?  Again, and also, as the Colonel knows the following answers from his military background -- Should we abandon the Country’s nuclear arsenal because … well, they haven’t been used in the last 60+ years… or eliminate the Border Patrol or ICE, as so many illegal aliens cross borders into our country without getting caught anyway? 

2) We agree that there is significant evidence that there are increased criminal referrals of students to the criminal justice system on campuses that have SROs. HOWEVER, our District's focus is the education of our children. We do not advocate for juvenile arrests, but do promote safe, secure, and healthy learning environments - the primary mission for our highly qualified and trained armed security officers, without the powers to arrest. In addition, our District’s position for these armed and uniformed, highly trained District security officers who do not have the powers to arrest, but do have the responsibilities and the priority to engage students with classroom instruction, be positive role models, positive behavior, conduct and perform traffic control, security and safety checks of campuses, be a community resource, etc., etc., for the safety and well-being of all of our children…and staff…and visitors alike on our campuses.

3) “Last spring, Michael Dorn, a Hillsborough County School District consultant, recommended hiring the additional SROs. Dorn told the School Board that it was remarkable that a system of Hillsborough’s size had never had an intentional campus shooting, but an analysis of the actual data indicates that he seriously overstated the frequency and magnitude of the threat. In reality, school shooting incidents, though tragic and horrific, are extremely rare.” It is true that last Spring, Mike Dorn, came to the District.  However, he DID NOT RECOMMEND THE HIRING OF ADDITIONAL SROs, He DID recommend the hiring of District security officers, just like the District security officers we currently employ in 19 of our elementary schools. There IS a difference, and stated prior, our security officers are armed and uniformed, and highly trained, but DO NOT possess the powers to arrest.  Additionally, Mike Dorn did say he it was remarkable that a district the size of Hillsborough County has NOT had an intentional campus shooting, and he stands by his statement and contends that his statement IS taken out of context.

When you look at a gathering of 200,000 people on a daily basis attending our campuses over a geographical area of 1,038 square miles, over 180 days a year, year after year, after year, and the fact that there has been no intentional shooting… Furthermore, we (the District and Mike Dorn) agree that school shooting incidents, though horrific, are extremely rare. I (and Mike Dorn) have stated this fact over and over for years and years. We too agree that the, “Media coverage of tragic events amplifies and distorts the public’s perception of the actual danger. It is important that decisions be based on accurate information.” This has been a “staple” of both Mike Dorn and my presentations as well.

However, I (we) do not propose adding armed and uniformed, highly trained district security officers, without the powers to arrest SIMPLY for or ONLY in response to national active shooter situations. Any of us who spend time in or around our campuses in Hillsborough County, understand that we are merely a microcosm of society, we are made up of the same people that make up our communities, AND that we must be prepared to respond to not just those situations that arise ON our campuses, by those many situations that arise NEARBY our school campuses on a DAILY basic – those situations that have NOTHING TO DO WITH OUR CAMPUSES, CHILDREN, OR FACULTY AND STAFF, BUT DO have an impact on their safety and security merely because of proximity.

To summarize, I agree that the School to Prison Pipeline is something we must continue to address, but we NEED to provide a safe and security campuses where our faculty is comfortable to teach AND or children are comfortable to learn – stressing academic achievement and success, not referrals to our criminal justice system or the incarceration of our youth. And, because we have approximately 400 youth a year arrested from our schools for Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana, and the fact that if they successfully complete the Drug Court Program, criminal charges will be dropped, shouldn’t we find or implement another alternative to arrest. I submit that the inclusion of a JAAP for Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana, along with the requirement to complete a drug program like or the same as the current Drug Court Program, be incorporated for our juveniles.  

    David W. Friedberg

    Pheneger's letter (edited for brevity):

  The Greater Tampa Chapter, ACLU of Florida opposes hiring additional School Resource Officers (SROs) for Hillsborough County’s Elementary Schools.

  There is little evidence that the presence of SROs will deter potential shooters. In virtually every case, the resolution of shooting incidents required the introduction of regular police agencies. SROs at Columbine and campus police at Virginia Tech did not prevent those tragedies.  Most incidents occurred in high schools and post-secondary schools where SROs or campus police forces are likely to be present. The unfortunate truth is that no amount of additional spending can guarantee that shooting incidents will not occur.

On the other hand, there is significant evidence that the presence of SROs feeds the “school to prison pipeline” – increased referrals of students to the Juvenile and/or Criminal Justice Systems.   In the emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, rational decision making about school security is difficult. School safety should be a priority.  Schools and communities naturally want to prevent additional tragedies, but it is important to avoid bad decisions – especially ones that have unintended but easily foreseeable consequences. Media coverage of tragic events amplifies and distorts the public’s perception of the actual danger. It is important that decisions be based on accurate information.

  Last spring, Michael Dorn, a Hillsborough County School District consultant, recommended hiring the additional SROs. Dorn told the School Board that it was remarkable that a system of Hillsborough’s size had never had an intentional campus shooting, but an analysis of the actual data indicates that he seriously overstated the frequency and magnitude of the threat. In reality, school shooting incidents, though tragic and horrific, are extremely rare. 

 According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States has about 132,000 public and private K-12 schools and 6,700 post-secondary schools. Since 2000, just 23/100ths of 1 percent of our schools experienced a shooting incident. From January 2000 through December 4, 2013, there have been 90 school shooting incidents in the United States.  Most occurred at schools where campus police or SROs are likely to be present: Colleges & Universities:  22%; High Schools:  56%; Middle Schools:  13% and Elementary Schools:  7%.   The vast majority of school shooting incidents are not on the scale of Virginia Tech, Columbine, or Sandy Hook. Six incidents involved suicides who chose a school as a venue to end their lives. Seven incidents involved individuals who fired onto school property from off-campus locations.

  We should be careful when applying a cost-benefit analysis when the safety of our children is involved; however, a local columnist’s argument that a single incident involving a nine-year old bringing a derringer to school justifies a $4.5M annual expenditure for additional elementary school SROs is simply illogical.

  There are negative consequences associated with placing additional police officers in public schools. The presence of SROs contributes to the growth of a School-to-Prison Pipeline. SROs, understandably, take a law-enforcement approach to school discipline. Problems once resolved in the principal’s office often end up in the juvenile justice system. The Florida Justice Policy Institute reported that - during FY 2011 - 2012 – Florida schools referred almost 14,000 students to the juvenile justice system – 1,046 were from Hillsborough County.

 The Justice Policy Institute reports that, nation-wide, schools with SROs have nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without them.  The Institute notes that early youth involvement with the criminal justice system can lead to “a lifetime of negative effects.” Georgia Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske notes that kids are “wired to do stupid things.” They are a work in progress, but students with arrest records are stigmatized and frequently experience lasting harm.  An early conviction may haunt them for life. A conviction will limit their ability to find a job, a place to live, go to college, and the loss of their right to vote. 

  Black, Hispanic and special needs children disproportionately end up in the school to prison pipeline – an experience that ruins many young lives. That is true in Hillsborough County. Information the District provided to the ACLU in response to a public information request, indicates that in 2012 - 2013, of disciplinary incidents resulting in arrests, 48% involved blacks, 25% Hispanics, 5% multi-racial, and 21% whites.  Black, Hispanic and multi-racial students also experienced disproportionately high rates of in and out of school suspensions.  

  SROs frequently deprive students of basic rights. Students are frequently interviewed without their parents or without being informed that they have the right to remain silent and consult an attorney. Students may not understand that confiding in a “friendly” police officer could have serious consequences. The Hillsborough Schools Security Services Department Civil Citation Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) does not require that a parent be present when students are interviewed or that students be informed of their rights. There are numerous media reports around the country of students being handcuffed, tased, or pepper-sprayed by SROs who exercise poor judgment.    If we are to have police in our schools they need special training “in adolescent development, crisis intervention and fostering positive relationships with students.”

 The Security Services Department’s Training Program SOP focuses primarily on core law enforcement subjects; civil rights and human diversity are (apparently) covered briefly during the “Legal” portion of the training curriculum. Human Diversity is the final option listed under “Other Available Training.” An increased law enforcement presence does nothing to address the underlying causes of incidents that result in disciplinary action.

Information the District provided to the NAACP indicates that the vast majority of disciplinary infractions occur in the classroom suggesting that programs to improve the in-class dynamics between students and teachers would be a wiser investment of scarce resources.  Our schools and our community would be safer if the school system focused adequate resources on solving problems of race and ethnicity in Hillsborough County Schools. On November 12, 2013, the School Board held a workshop responding to concerns voiced by the Hillsborough Chapter of the NAACP.  The District’s presentation was designed to show minority progress in a number of areas, but the presentation frequently camouflaged the negative implications of the data.

  Based on the District’s presentation and information obtained from the District through a public information request and data from New America Foundation’s Federal Education Budget Project (FEBP), we draw three major conclusions:

1. Hillsborough County’s student population does not reflect the county’s broader demographic or the demographic of those who elect the School Board.  Hillsborough has a “minority-majority” school system. The number of students living under or near the poverty line is increasing.

2. Black, Hispanic and Multi-race students are disciplined at rates far in excess of their proportion of the student population.

3. Black, Hispanic and Multi-race students consistently underperform in this system.   

Information provided by the District indicates that every elementary school student arrested in 2012-13 was black (12) or mixed race (3).   The District’s information supports the conclusion that racial and ethnic minorities are referred for disciplinary action at rates significantly higher than their numbers. Though it indicates a significant reduction in the number disciplinary incidents, the disparity in the discipline of racial and ethnic minorities persists. Black and Hispanic males are most likely to be disciplined.

Information provided in response to our Public Information Request titled “Student Incident Ethnic Counts By School Year” indicates that there were 40,217 student disciplinary incidents in 2012-13. Seventy-one percent involved racial/ethnic minorities.  However, information from the District’s NAACP briefing (Slides 54, 55, and 56) suggest that the actual number is either significantly greater or that some incidents involved multiple forms of misbehavior. Slide 57 indicates that there were over 55,000 disciplinary referrals in 2012-13; this suggests that the District needs to re-look or standardize its reporting.

An analysis of District information on ATOSS, ISS, and OSS incidents In Hillsborough County’s high schools is telling. In every high school, minority students were disciplined at significantly higher rates that their numbers would suggest.   The analysis also reveals that nine high schools (King, Wharton, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Armwood, Spoto, Freedom, Leto, and Jefferson) have disciplinary incident rates significantly higher than the norm. Each has a relatively high concentration of minority students.

District Slides 57 and 58 indicate that the vast majority of inappropriate behavior occurs in the classroom. This suggests that the District should focus on improving internal classroom dynamics.   Black, Hispanic and Multiracial Students Significantly Underperform in the HCPS. 

The District’s presentation to the NAACP indicates that the number of Hillsborough students taking AP exams increased significantly since 2006-7. This is also true of African American and Hispanic students.   However, on closer examination, Black, Hispanic and Multiracial students do not take exams or achieve levels of performance in numbers proportional to their percentage of the student population. Though black and Hispanic students are taking more AP exams, they are taking them at rates and achieving success in numbers significantly less than their numbers in the student population. 

It is difficult to determine the actual graduation rates for the Hillsborough County School System; however, High School Graduation rates for county high schools clearly indicate that schools with the lowest graduation rates generally have the highest concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities. The major exception to the rule is Tampa Bay Tech.

Information provided by the district indicates that 14,308 9th graders entered school on 9/15/2008, but only 10,346 graduated in 2013 - an apparent loss of 28% of students who started their freshman year. One source of student loss may result from withdrawals of underperforming students to adult schools. 1,694 were withdrawn in 2012-13.  Data on “Withdrawn W26 Student Counts (Attending Adult Schools” provided by the district shows that minority students are sent to adult schools in disproportionate numbers.  Seventy percent were racial/ethnic minorities. (Black 32.4%, Hispanic 3.8%, Multi-Racial 4.2%). It is our understanding that these students do not generally receive a regular diploma.  

The Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU of Florida opposes hiring additional School Resource Officers (SROs) for Hillsborough County’s Elementary Schools. We believe that the District’s scarce resources would be better spent if focused on improving the performance of its minority students. This would significantly improve safety in our schools and in the community at-large and enhance the civil liberties of all students.

  Mike Pheneger, Colonel, USA (Ret.) President, Greater Tampa Chapter, ACLU of Florida  

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 5:23pm]

    

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