09/24/2013

SPLC reaches agreement with Florida school district to ensure children at county jail receive an education

The SPLC has reached an agreement with Florida’s Polk County School Board that will ensure children held at the Central County Jail receive an appropriate education vital to helping them return to their communities.

The agreement announced today ensures that all children at the jail receive five hours of daily classroom instruction as required by law. Newly detained students also will have their math and reading skills evaluated to ensure they are taught at the appropriate grade level.

The agreement, which does not assign guilt, resolves complaints the SPLC filed against the board on behalf of two students held at the Polk Central County Jail. It does not resolve a federal lawsuit the SPLC filed against Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in 2012 for regularly subjecting children held at the jail to abuse, neglect and violence.

“Education is the key to preventing these students from becoming trapped within the justice system,” said Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director. “This agreement helps ensure that students held at the Polk Central County Jail will continue to receive their education, which is critical to helping them get their lives back on track.”

The district also has agreed that Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) educational standards – standards developed over years to protect the unique needs of children when they are incarcerated – will apply to these students whether they are tried as juveniles or adults. Polk County is the only county in Florida that detains youth charged as juveniles under jail standards rather than DJJ standards – reversing more than 40 years of juvenile justice efforts to create protections for children that adult jails cannot provide.

The board will hire an independent consultant to monitor and provide assistance with the operation of the classroom.

Other provisions of the agreement include the following:

  • The district will take steps toward ensuring that teachers assigned to the jail become certified to teach regular classes and special education classes. Teachers who did not hold dual certification at the start of the 2013-14 school year should obtain dual certification within one year. 

 

  • A meeting to create individualized education programs for students with disabilities will be held within 10 days of a child being admitted to the jail.

 

  • The district will monitor absences from the jail’s school facility, verifying all absences in writing and providing notices to parents regarding truancy.

 

  • The district will retain a transition coordinator to assist students returning to school after being released from jail. The coordinator also will assist these students with the transition from school to adulthood.

 

  • A Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program will be implemented within the jail’s classrooms. This program emphasizes the reinforcement of positive social behaviors rather than simply punishing bad behaviors. 

 

  • The agreement outlines steps that must be taken to address the needs of the two students on whose behalf the original complaints were brought. The district will also review the records of other children previously held at the jail who did not bring complaints themselves.

 

  • The agreement establishes that the school district owns and operates the portable classroom at the jail and is responsible for instruction.