Home News Center Campaign Snapshot: Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Office

Campaign Snapshot: Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Office

November 17, 2016
Benjamin Chambers

school-discipline_SPLCA recent campaign by an NJJN member organization in Florida – the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Florida office -- to tackle the school-to-prison pipeline in Pinellas County, FL was highlighted in the acclaimed documentary, “America Divided”. (Follow the link to see the episode, which features the SPLC’s Amir Whitaker and actor Jesse Williams.) It’s a great example of using various tactics – statistics reports, media, coalition building, community mobilization, public events, data analysis, a federal civil rights complaint, and celebrity engagement – to keep an issue in the public eye. 

Here’s a quick timeline/synopsis of their campaign to date, on which the SPLC collaborated with faith-based and other community groups: 

Oct. 2015- The SPLC Florida office partnered with the Florida Association of School Psychologists to create a position statement against the school-to-prison pipeline. This provided the professional expertise needed for the advocacy campaign and report card. The statement was eventually supported by the Florida School Counselors Association here and was featured in the news. 

Dec. 2015 -- The SPLC Florida office released a Pinellas County Schools Report Card with statistics and solutions concerning school arrests and discipline. The story received coverage by ABC News, The Tampa Bay Times, and The Weekly Challenger.

Feb. 2016 -- The school district implemented the first wave of SPLC’s recommended solutions and policy changes.

March 2016- SPLC Florida attended the monthly school board meeting and made public comments with other organizations. Covered by Tampa Bay Times.

April 2016 – SPLC Florida’s Amir Whitaker published an op-ed, “Why Suspensions Aren’t the Answer,” to call for more reforms in the Tampa Bay Times. Shortly afterwards, the district announced suspended students will have access to in-school alternatives that provide students with classwork and supervision.

April 2016 – SPLC participated in a gathering of over 3,000 community members at a major-league baseball field to demand additional reforms. Four school board members were present and publicly agreed to more of the demands set out in the SPLC’s report card.

August 2016 – After a data analysis revealed the problem was worse than it had first appeared, SPLC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights. The analysis revealed that almost 4,000 kids had been arrested in school over five school years. The most common offense? Disorderly conduct, which accounted for 939 student arrests. See, “In This Florida District, Black Students Are Punished Far More Harshly Than White Students,” Huffington Post, August 31, 2016.

October 2016 – The SPLC’s Amir Whitaker co-authors a piece in TIME Magazine with actor Jesse Williams, “Jesse Williams and Amir Whitaker: Brown v. Board of Education Is a Broken Promise.”

Photo: Flickr user Thomas Favre-Bulle.  

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