Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani and Florida state Sen. Janet Cruz today announced legislation that would create uniform requirements to ensure that all Florida students can receive an education in school buildings that are structurally sound.
The Students’ Bill of Rights requires that all Florida students attend schools that are designed and constructed, where applicable, to minimize the impact from hurricanes or other natural disasters; that meet required fire-safety and health standards; that are accessible to individuals with disabilities; that follow safe school design principles; and that have sound infrastructure.
Because not all school buildings adhere to the same construction safety standards, many Florida students lack access to life-saving protections. Private schools supported by state funds – and some charter schools – do not have to meet the state building code requirements that public schools do. Additionally, they are not built to the same safety standards as most public schools, and they are not required to meet the same minimum safety requirements.
“When newly built schools do not play by the same rules and do not adhere to basic structural safety requirements, student lives are at risk,” Eskamani said. “There are Florida children attending schools that are falsifying fire-safety and health records. How can we expect our students to reach their fullest potential, when we are not protecting them with some of the most basic safety requirements?”
Cruz said that all children in Florida must be able to attend a school that is safe and structurally sound.
“Florida schools are particularly at-risk from hurricane damage, and some are not prepared to offer their students safe shelter in times of natural disaster,” Cruz said. “We expect more, and this legislation will codify those minimum requirements.”
Many newly constructed public schools must be able to serve as public shelters during emergencies, such as hurricanes or other natural disasters. Private schools and some charter schools, however, do not have to meet this requirement. This also leaves some areas of the state without enough shelters to protect those communities. Some states, including Alabama, require private schools to adhere to the same building codes as public schools.
“Florida students deserve the right to attend school every day in a structurally sound and accessible facility built for learning, and families deserve to know whether their children’s schools are meeting those requirements,” said Bacardi Jackson, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC Action Fund. “Lawmakers must act swiftly to enact protections for students who attend schools that do not meet minimum safety requirements.”
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