The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Help, not handcuffs

State Sen. Dwight Bullard wants to put a plug in what he accurately calls Florida’s “school to prison” pipeline. His bill, SB 1374, should meet the approval of any legislative colleague concerned about educating, not incarcerating, Florida’s future.

Florida once imposed a zero-tolerance policy for students’ criminal behavior on school grounds. Police, rightly, should be called in such situations and arrests made. However, at many schools, that policy morphed into little tolerance for any behaviors deemed out of bounds — fighting, acting out — even acts that are not crimes in our society. Mr. Bullard gives a stunning example of an honors student who was arrested for trying to break up a fight at school. Another was arrested for throwing a Tootsie Roll at a classmate.

African-American students have borne the brunt of administrators’ — and law enforcement’s — overreaction. Most nonminority students are arrested for serious violations such as gun or drug possession. Minorities’ behavior has been judged more subjectively, with assertive behavior or yelling, for instance, resulting in arrests — patently unfair and needlessly damaging to a student’s future.

Mr. Bullard’s bill will link money doled out for school resource officers to the number of students arrested at each school. Lawmakers should support this.

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