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Flagler Schools Will Settle Civil Rights Lawsuit And Appoint Disciplinary Oversight Council

| June 3, 2015

Superintendent Jacob Oliva in January with Jerusha Logan, a key, behind-the-scenes member of the NAACP's increased involvement in school district disciplinary policies in the last few years. (© FlaglerLive)

Superintendent Jacob Oliva in January with Jerusha Logan, a key, behind-the-scenes member of the NAACP’s increased involvement in school district disciplinary policies in the last few years. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County School Board has reached a settlement in a three-year civil rights lawsuit that charged the district with unfair disciplinary practices toward black students and a regime of excessive suspensions or expulsions. The board in two weeks will sign off on the agreement with the Atlanta-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the complaint in 2012 on behalf of three students “and all others similarly situated.”

“We have been working collaboratively to reach an agreement,” Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney, told the board Tuesday evening, “and if this agreement is reached by both parties, then they would end up withdrawing their complaint from OCR and that matter would be resolved.” OCR is the federal Office of Civil Rights. Absent unexpected objections, the board is expected to formally ratify the agreement at its June 16 meeting.

Until the agreement expires in June 2018, the district would be in something of a probationary period with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and responsible for fulfilling specific, ongoing requirements.

At the heart of the agreement is a new mission for an existing committee, called the Coalition for Student Success. That committee will be turned into something similar to a civilian review board that operates as a watchdog of some police agencies. Its 11 members, made up of parents, students, community members (at least one of whom represents the local chapter of the NAACP), the sheriff’s office, a mental health counselor and just one representative from the school district’s administrative staff, will meet at least quarterly and publicly to review disciplinary data and make recommendations to the superintendent regarding disciplinary policies. The agreement does not spell out who appoints the members of the committee.

The committee will have the authority to examine student disciplinary data, “provided that adequate safeguards are taken so as not to disclose confidential or personally identifiable information” protected by privacy laws. The committee is to meet for the first time no later than Sept. 15, and will have stricter public information requirements, such as disseminating notices of meetings two weeks ahead of such meetings. The panel will also be responsible for providing an annual report to the board. The agreement does not indicate to what extent the school district may or will provide staffing or financial support to the panel—often an Achilles’ heel of well-meaning efforts that rely exclusively on volunteers.

An attempt to turn a problem into inovative solutions, including the elimination of out-of-school suspensions.

The agreement also calls for Superintendent Jacob Oliva to write an advisory letter spelling out the mission of school resource deputies. Oliva will write the letter in conjunction with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s attorneys. That section of the settlement makes a passing allusion to the “re-establishment of an alternative program,” suggesting that the district may at some point reopen an alternative school. That school was closed during the recent years’ budget crunch.

Other sections of the agreement are more routine, addressing—or re-addressing—disciplinary protocols such as the district’s Positive Behavior Support system, which strives to discipline students without removing them from the classroom. The wording of the agreement is tame, but its consequence may be far-reaching, as the Gavin explicitly spoke of the district’s intention to eliminate out-of-school suspensions entirely.

“We are also looking to hopefully one day to be able to say that suspension is no longer required,” Gavin said. “Currently this year we had a maximum of 10-day suspensions.” For that to be imposed, it required the approval of a central office administrator. Next year the maximum-suspension length will be lowered to seven days, and subsequently to five or fewer days. “Our goal is to always have our students in the classroom,” Gavin said. Out-of-school suspensions had been one of the most severely criticized aspects of the district’s disciplinary habits in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s original complaint.

The agreement also restates numerous practices the district is already carrying out regarding the Code of Conduct, its dissemination to parents and students and its annual revisions, training of faculty and staff, principals’ meetings with students, outreach with the community, and so on. (See the full agreement below.)

The district worked with the law center’s Amir Whitaker and Lisa Carmona, lawyers for the civil rights organization. Both were at the meeting Tuesday.

Amir Whitaker of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Amir Whitaker of the Southern Poverty Law Center. (© FlaglerLive)

“I want to commend you along the great work that’s going on here in Flagler,” Whitaker said. “Since the very beginning I’ve expressed to the superintendent and to everyone I’ve worked with that I’m encountering things here and seeing things here that are not happening anywhere else, and seeing schools across three states, you have great leadership in Superintendent Oliva.” He stressed that approving the agreement was urgent, so that the district would not start another school year with the complaint pending. “It’s a continued commitment to a lot of the great ideas that have actually taken place here,” Whitaker continued, describing some seven or eight trips to the district to work through the agreements and the individual needs of schools, parents and students.

“We appreciate the agreement, I think it’s a collaborative, cooperative kind of agreement,” Colleen Conklin, who chairs the school board, said. “When we tend to shine the light on thing we tend to know what we’re working with, and work better to try to improve them.”

“We’re not in the business of just meeting compliance for a complaint,” Oliva, the superintendent, said. “We want to be a district that implements some of the most innovative practices in the nation, where you’re going to bring other districts to learn from us. So when we started this journey and sat down at the table, it was with that vision in mind, and some of the ideas that we’ve kicked around and some of the vision that we’re working on I think is pretty innovative, and it’s aligned with the school board’s vision and mission in being premier is what we stand for, whether that’s how we implement student support for our struggling students, dealing with discipline and graduation rates. We’re not afraid to try anything. We appreciate them coming to the table with that same mindset. It’s been a very powerful process and I’ve learned a lot and I’m grateful for that opportunity.”

Flagler County Schools Settlement With Southern Poverty Law Center (2015)

31 Responses for “Flagler Schools Will Settle Civil Rights Lawsuit And Appoint Disciplinary Oversight Council”

  1. theevoice says:

    hard to believe how bad lyndon johnson screwed up this once proud nation!!!

    • John Cakes says:

      While I agree that some of these Civil Rights people are complete morons,would you rather us go back to how things were before ? I’m sick of hearing people say how much better things were back in the day…”The Grass is always greene ”

      “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation in the United States that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public”

      • Richard Bedwell says:

        The 1964 civil rights act was based upon the fourteenth amendment to the constitution. This amendment was never passed by two thirds of either house and was never ratified by the required three fourths of the states. It should be removed from the constitution and all laws passed based upon it and all court rulings based upon it should be reversed. Don’t believe me? Check the historical records.

    • Anonymous says:

      YEAH! And all those democrats after him too!!! What? there were 5 republicans? No! I don’t believe it

  2. PeeWee says:

    So basically if too many BLACKS get in trouble b/c BLACKS act bad, then all the WHITES have to agree to not punish BLACKS?

    • Nancy N says:

      What a racist assumption! Did it never occur to you that black students are targeted by school staff for harsh enforcement? If black students are being punished for infractions for which a guilty white student is not, or if a black student receives a punishment that is disproportionately harsher than a white student for the same offense – both of which the SPLC has evidence has been repeatedly true in Flagler Schools’ discipline record – then there is a problem, and it is not that blacks “act bad”.

    • a tiny manatee says:

      I think it’s more like both whites and black get into the same type of trouble, but the blacks are disproportionally punished for it. Hope that helps.

  3. JimBob says:

    Yeah, but he turned the South into a bastion for the Republican Party where racism is still cool.

  4. Will (#1) says:

    Don’t forget the stars and bars flying from some kid’s truck at FPC the other day too. There are some recalcitrant slugs in this county, but it’s getting better slowly.

    • Richard Bedwell says:

      I think you are incorrectly referring to the Confederate Battle Flag. The stars and bars was the third national flag of the Confederacy.

  5. m&m says:

    With Obama and people like the mayor of Baltimore supporting and indorsing riots, things are only going to get worse.

  6. Sherry E says:

    OK, quoting from the article regarding the lawsuit, for those who did not actually read it: “reached a settlement in a three-year civil rights lawsuit that charged the district with unfair disciplinary practices toward black students and a regime of excessive suspensions or expulsions. ”

    Where does it say that “too many BLACKS get in trouble because BLACKS act bad”???? Or is it that our local society is still so biased that we just assume that African Americans are bad people no matter what. Some of the comments here are disgusting when they say we should go back to racial discrimination! Yet, I’ll bet these are the same people that deny their own racism. . . and possibly while going to “church” every Sunday. Some of these comments are awful from every perspective!

  7. biker says:

    So 31% of the black students were suspended. I guess the question that is not really answered is did those 31% commit offenses that merited suspensions? We’re there students of other races that committed the same offenses that were not suspended? Or… Are these findings being founded on the disparate impact theory. Which means the facts of the offences do not matter..just the racial make up of the final numbers?

    • Just saying says:

      And in addition did someone commit an offense, but does that person have a history of similar offenses? Has the previous attempts at correction (including punishments) had any positive effect?

      I person A and B both commit the same offense, this is person A’s first offense and gets a few hours in silence. Person B has committed this and similar offenses before, punishments 1-3 have not been effective so punishment 4 is merited based on history and not the offense committed in this incident.

  8. Ken Dodge says:

    Just to remind everyone that we are a society of Equal Opportunity, not one of ‘Guaranteed Equal Outcome’.

  9. Enlightened says:

    The only ones keeping discrimination alive are the blacks. Why do we (and I mean all races not just whites) have to be reminded of what happen during slavery. It was a long time ago and we all should move on and treat each other equal. Enough already! What happen to being held liable for your actions? No matter the color.

    • Nancy N says:

      Your comment is anything but “enlightened”. We don’t have to be reminded of what happened during slavery…but we do need to be aware of what the ongoing current effects of centuries of racism in this country are. Open your eyes and look around you…”stop and frisk”…hiring discrimination…police profiling….it’s still going on. It wasn’t “a long time ago.” We should move on and treat each other equal. But that day is not here yet. The comments on this article are proof enough of that.

      • Richard says:

        Stop and Frisk worked in NYC. Now that the new socialist mayor has stopped that policy, we see crime rates and murder rates in the black areas skyrocketing. Profiling also works. These policies were implemented to try and reduce the crime rate in the black neighborhoods and they were working. And look what has happened in Baltimore, how sad, the Mayor and DA thru the entire police force under the bus and we now see the results of murder up over 100%. And this is spreading across the country to all major cities. The police have stopped being proactive and are now just reactive, what can you expect when the Mayor and Police chief don’t support you. The blacks are going to be the ones suffering. It seems black lives only matter if they are taken by a police officer shooting a criminal, otherwise, they don’t seem to matter much at all.

      • Ray Thorne says:

        Yeah look how deblasio ending stop and frisk has worked out so far for NYC..Stop and Frisk has thwarted crime and has saved lives…now crime has gone up there and deblasio admits there’s a “shooting problem” in the city.

  10. I/M/O says:

    Can’t wait for the other shoe to drop. I/M/O that’s coming.

  11. Sherry E says:

    Just to remind everyone. . . we all live in a country where ” Equal Opportunity” is the theory, BUT, it does NOT really exist . Children of color do NOT have equal education! And that is becoming more and more the case with “public school” funds being funnelled into private schools (AKA Charter Schools). Well qualified African Americans still have great difficulty in being hired into good jobs because there is still bias in hiring practices. There is case after case of police and judicial discrimination against people of color, even in this day and age. That equals “UNEQUAL EDUCATION, JUSTICE and JOB OPPORTUNITY”. . . and that’s just the tip of the iceburg!

    Racism is unfortunately alive and well in Flagler County, Florida and the USA. . . just read the comments here for proof positive!

    • Richard says:

      Separate but equal was much better. The fix was in on Brown vs. Board of Education. There are some very well written articles on how it was all fixed. Now the bar has been lowered so many times to accommodate minorities, that the Government Run, Taxpayer funded skuls are a joke. The Federal Department of Education should be abolished and education should be left up to the states.

  12. Richard says:

    Why is the school district even negotiating with the SPLC? The SPLC is a known racist organization, just in it for the money, much like Al $harpton and Je$$e Jack$on, they are a bunch of race hustlers. The school district should have gone to court and taken a stand against this very racist organization.

  13. w.ryan says:

    Ignorance is bliss? Wow…sad bunch in this thread! I’ll keep hope alive!

  14. Ray Thorne says:

    I’d like to see an article on the programs our local NAACP has provided for underprivileged youth in our county. Perhaps people would be more eager to help if that information is put out there.

  15. I/M/O says:

    The Good News! Florida increase school funding.

    “…On education, the lead House and Senate negotiators conceded that they are unlikely to reach Gov. Rick Scott’s goal of record funding for public schools on a per-student basis. While Scott’s goal of $7,176 a head was already a long shot, there was still a possibility that the Legislature could top the old high-water mark of $7,126 in the 2007-08 school year.
    The latest Senate offer has $7,097 per student, which would still be an increase of $207 from the current budget year.
    “Every single school district in the state of Florida is going to see an increase per student, a significant increase per student,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who chairs the House education financing committee….”

  16. tomc says:

    It is all about behavior in the classroom. SPLC doesn’t care about that…this flap is all about $ and letting black kids do whatever they want

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