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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Not exactly zero tolerance anymore in Florida schools



Florida lawmakers passed new rules relating to school discipline and zero-tolerance policies nearly two years ago.

The goal was to give school leaders leeway in determining which student actions truly represented a threat, and which were harmless incidents.

But some schools continued to suspend children for bringing toy weapons. Leaders at others remained unclear about just what the new rules really mean. So nearly two years after the fact, the Florida Department of Education has sent out some guidance.

The 2009 changes "have raised questions regarding the appropriate disciplinary actions for offending students, and more specifically, how much discretion is afforded to districts when disciplining students for petty acts," the paper states in its introduction. "This technical assistance paper provides further guidance to districts relating to discipline for petty acts, as well as to answer specific questions from district staff regarding the implementation of 'zero-tolerance' policies."

The key question: How far must districts go in dealing with "petty" acts?

As an example, a student and his family moved from one house to another over the weekend. The student used his vehicle to transport boxes of household items. On Monday morning, household items were still in the student’s vehicle, including a steak knife. The student has no history of disciplinary violations, and there was no evidence that the student used, threatened to use, or intended to use the steak knife for any illicit purpose. Would the school be required to expel the student or refer him to law enforcement?

The Department has concluded that the District is not required to expel a student or report a student to law enforcement for petty acts, even if the student is technically in violation of one of the two offenses listed in 1006.13(3). The explicit intent of the Legislature is to promote a safe school environment through zero-tolerance for conduct that is a “serious threat to school safety,” and the districts are afforded discretion in cases involving petty acts.

Seems pretty clear. Can't wait to see the next time one of these cases ends up splashed across the national news because a district decided to stay tough.

[Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2011 1:41pm]


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