TAMPA — Advocates will go to the Capitol next week to press for changes in zero-tolerance policies in schools and the juvenile justice system, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The April 8 event was announced during an event Monday at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church in Tampa. It will coincide with this year's Children's Week, when groups advocate for children's and family issues in Florida.
In Tallahassee, advocates will try to meet with legislators serving on criminal justice and education committees, said Christine Henderson, co-director of advocacy for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"They're going to kind of walk the hall, talk to legislators," she said.
Henderson said advocates hope to discuss what they think is the over-criminalization — and over-penalization — of juveniles in Florida.
Being honored at Monday's dinner was Kiera Wilmot, a Polk County high school student who made national headlines when she was arrested and faced expulsion for setting off a chemical explosion in what she said was just a science experiment. The charges were later dropped, and she was allowed back in school.
"Wilmot has become a symbol of Florida's over-incarceration of schoolchildren and has helped fuel a movement to reform zero-tolerance policies," the law center said in a statement.
Phillip Agnew, director of the Dream Defenders, the group that staged a sit-in at the Capitol to protest Florida's "stand your ground" law, was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at Monday's event at Beulah Baptist. He said reform of schools' zero-tolerance policies is necessary.
"Across the country, we're seeing these policies criticized," he said.