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PolitiFact: Dream Defenders' claim that Florida first in school kid arrests half true

Alekos Zambrano, 22, from Tampa, with Tampa Dream Defenders, helps to lead a group of about 175 as they marched from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to the federal courthouse in Tampa to protest after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin last year in Sanford.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Alekos Zambrano, 22, from Tampa, with Tampa Dream Defenders, helps to lead a group of about 175 as they marched from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to the federal courthouse in Tampa to protest after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin last year in Sanford.

Is Florida leading the nation when it comes to the number of school kids arrested?

That's the claim of the Dream Defenders — a group of young people who are demanding change in the state, including the repeal of the state's "stand your ground" law. The group has been camping outside Gov. Rick Scott's office since July 16.

"Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida," Monique Gillum, one of the group's leaders, said during a recent meeting with Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice Wansley Walters. "It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."

The number of school kids arrested isn't in dispute. The state Department of Juvenile Justice says there were 12,520 school-related arrests in the 2011-12 school year. But is that tops in the country?

That's more difficult to say.

National "data-keeping in this realm is indeed pretty awful," said Kevin G. Welner, professor and director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

Florida, it turns out, does a better job than most states at compiling the data. It's the best, in fact, said David Utter at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

To back up their claim, the Dream Defenders sent us an article from Ebony, which stated, "While Florida is not alone in turning to police to discipline young people, it has the distinction of being the nation's leader in school-based arrests."

Ebony referenced an article in Color Lines, a magazine that focuses on issues pertaining to race. Its report stated: "Last year, Florida produced the highest documented number of school-based arrests in the country — and that number was an improvement over previous years."

Gillum also directed us to a 2011 report about Florida school arrests written by the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group, along with the ACLU in Florida and the NAACP.

"Florida still has the highest documented number of school-based referrals to law enforcement in the country," states the report.

A footnote added that data are not collected nationwide.

"The report should have conveyed Florida's data is the highest on record," Advancement Project spokeswoman Jennifer Farmer told PolitiFact Florida. "It may not be the highest in the country, but it's the highest on record."

The distinctions are critical. While Florida's school arrests are the highest on record, they are not necessarily the highest overall.

Our ruling

Dream Defenders said, "Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida. It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."

The number about Florida is correct: There were 12,520 students arrested at schools in 2011-12, according to the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

But the Dream Defenders failed to prove that the number makes Florida the nation's leader in school-related arrests, largely because data aren't collected nationwide.

We rate this claim Half True.

This fact-check has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

"Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida. It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area."

Dream Defenders, July 22, in a meeting

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Half True
The number is about right. But the Dream Defenders failed to prove that the number makes Florida the nation's leader in school-related arrests. As such, we rate the claim Half True.

PolitiFact: Dream Defenders' claim that Florida first in school kid arrests half true 08/04/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 5, 2013 9:35am]

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