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SPLC Reaches Settlement in Lawsuit Against Florida MSD Commission

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission has agreed to abide by its own commitments about when it will take public comments during its meetings and hold those meetings in locations that are accessible to the public, among other provisions to allow the community a fair opportunity to share their concerns. This agreement resolves a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of youth activists denied an opportunity to speak during the public comments portion of the Commission meeting on October 16, 2019. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of March for Our Lives Florida, Florida Student Power Network, the Dream Defenders, and individual students who planned to speak at the October meeting. 

“This lawsuit is about ensuring the voices of those most impacted by the Commission’s recommendations can be heard,” said Bacardi Jackson, managing attorney for SPLC’s children’s rights project in Florida. “Unfortunately, there currently is no representation on the Commission for children or communities most under threat by overpolicing. This agreement makes clear that they, and anyone concerned about the Commission’s proposals, can no longer be ignored.”

Jackson continued, “The policy recommendations by the Commission have serious consequences for Black students, other students of color and students with disabilities as they have a high potential of becoming law. These students are disproportionately targeted for exclusionary discipline and arrest  for normal adolescent behavior and minor infractions and face the potentially deadly consequences of the proliferation of guns in the hands of inadequately trained school personnel. Although this case is closed, our efforts to get policymakers like the MSD Commission to rethink policies that have had the unintended consequences of making schools less safe, hostile and harmful for many of Florida’s students continue.” 

As one plaintiff, Kinsey Akers, put it, in comments to the commission: “As students, we have a right to let our thoughts and opinions be considered, and we should feel empowered to do so. It is because of the devotion of our state's hardworking organizers, policymakers, and community members alike that Florida's schools are moving promisingly in the direction of safety, and I am proud that Florida's students are finally being recognized for their valued perspectives.” 

In October, the SPLC released a report describing how the Commission’s composition, decision-making process and recommendations make schools and vulnerable student populations less safe. It details how decisions were made without thoroughly studying the impact police have on students in schools. The Commission is made up almost entirely of law enforcement representatives and virtually no one on the Commission has experience in public education, school administration, youth development or mental health.