The Pensacola chapter of the League of Women’s Voters held a “School-to-Prison Pipeline” panel discussion on August 31, 2015, at Franco’s Restaurant. The event was organized by LMVP representative Dr. Paula B. Montgomery. Ms. Keyontay Humphries of the American Civil Liberties Union helped organize the panel and participated from the floor. The panel was moderated by Ms. Lisa Nellessen-Lara, editor of the Pensacola News Journal. Panelists included Dr. Harper, economist; Chief David Alexander, Pensacola Police Department; Ms. McDaniel, former Youth Defender; Judge Nickinson, former Youth Court judge; Superintendent of Education Mary Beth Jackson, Okaloosa County; Dr. Amir Whitaker, lawyer, Southern Poverty Law Center; and, Ms. Keyontay Humphries, American Civil Liberties Union, from the floor.
If there is a bottom line to the presentations, I would say that there are at least six fundamental points that need to be considered if we are going to address successfully the reduction of sending our children into the school-to-prison pipeline.
First, as Superintendent Jackson explained, she made ending out-of-school suspensions her number one strategic goal and replaced that destructive practice with a Student Training Program. She also pointed out that nothing in education is cheap, but it is vital to make the distinction between what something costs and what its value is.
Second, as Chief Alexander stated, we need the best trained School Resource Officers in our schools and to reimagine what we are doing and want to achieve.
Third, Judge Nickinson stated that the best solution is to do everything possible to keep our children from ever entering the juvenile justice or the criminal justice system.
Fourth, Dr. Whitaker pointed to specific policies that have been enacted in other cities and states that have, in fact, reduced the number of children facing in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests for misdemeanors and felonies; we over-criminalize youth behaviors, especially the behaviors of Black and brown boys and girls relative to their white counterparts.
Fifth, Ms. McDaniel spoke of the larger social issues like poverty, low wages, and high levels of income inequality that all work against hard-working concerned moms and dads. We cannot expect to save our children, to keep them out of the school-to-prison pipeline, through wishful thinking and magical solutions. It will take money.
And sixth, as Dr. Harper pointed out, putting our children into the prison pipeline is not only wasting a precious life, it costs the taxpayers of Escambia County millions of dollars and produces essentially nothing except former convicts who cannot find a job, cannot vote, and end up returning to prison.
For more resources, see the following studies on the "School Offense Protocol" that Ms. Humphries recommends as a specific policy that is proven to reduce the flow of our children into the school-to-prison pipeline.
"Reducing School Referrals" by Judge Teske, 2009
"Jefferson County (AL) Family Court's School Offense Protocol," January 2010
"Birmingham City Schools Collaborative Agreement," October 2009
"When Did Making Adults Mad Become A Crime?," January 2013, Judge Teske's presentation is the second of the seminar.
Biographies of Panelists
Dr. Rick Harper, economist at the University of West Florida, received his doctorate in economics from Duke University in 1989. He has held visiting appointments at the Superior School of Commercial Sciences (ESSCA is the French acronym), one of France's top 20 business schools; the University of Nottingham, England; and, University College, in Cork, Ireland. From 2001 to 2006 he represented northwest Florida on then Governor Jeb Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Currently, he is the director of the University of West Florida's Office of Economic Development and Engagement.
Pensacola Chief of Police David Alexander III earned a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and a Master's degree in human resources management from Troy University. He is also a graduate of the FBI's National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Starting as a rookie cadet in 1983, Chief Alexander has held positions in Uniform Patrol, Administrative Technical Services, Neighborhood Services, and Criminal Investigations divisions. He is the first African-American chief of police since the organization was founded in 1821.
Ms. Mary G. McDaniel is a graduate of the prestigious Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Ms. McDaniel describes herself as a "zealous advocate" for her clients. Her distinguished public service career includes serving as a Public Defender in Florida's 1st Judicial District and internships with the Federal Public Defender, Middle District, Louisiana; Juvenile Public Defender’s Office; 19th Judicial District Court, Louisiana; and, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigations Division, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Currently, she is in private practice doing divorce and family law.
Mrs. Mary Beth Jackson, Superintendent of Schools for Okaloosa County, is an Okaloosa native who has served 30 years with the Okaloosa School District holding positions in elementary, middle, and high schools. She has a Bachelors degree in Social Science from William Carey University and a Master's degree in Educational Leadership from the University of West Florida. Superintendent Jackson has made the elimination of out-of-school suspensions her number one strategic objective which informs her diagnostic and corrective policy efforts. She replaced out-of-school suspensions with a Student Training Program (STP) where students stay in school, complete their assignments, and complete modules that address student behavior. She is also highly concerned with school safety and ensured that all school buses had cameras installed and is pushing to have highly trained School Resource Officers in all the district's schools, including elementary schools.
Dr. Amir Whitaker is a civil rights attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Florida office. In addition to being a graduate of the school-to-prison pipeline, Dr. Whitaker has earned five college degrees, including a degree from Rutgers University, a Masters and Doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, and, in May 2014, earned his law degree from the University of Miami's School of Law. Dr. Whitaker has taught in multiple schools through Miami-Dade's Street Law Program, and has taught for nine years from South Central Los Angeles to South Africa. In 2012, he started the non-profit Project Knucklehead to empower at-risk youth to reach their potential for greatness.
Video Presentations In Order of Appearance
Introduction, Dr. Paula Montgomery, Education Committee, League of Women Voters, Pensacola Chapter
Introduction, Ms. Keyontay Humphries, American Civil Liberties Union
Biographies of Panelists, Ms. Lisa Nellenssen-Lara, moderator, editor, Pensacola News Journal
Dr. Rick Harper, economist, University of West Florida
Chief of Police David Alexander III, Pensacola Police Department
Ms. Mary McDaniel, former Youth Defender
Judge Nickinson, former Youth Court Judge, Florida 1st District
Superintendent of Okaloosa County Schools, Mrs. Mary Beth Jackson
Dr. Amir Whitaker, Southern Poverty Law Center
Q&A: Superintendent Jackson on School Resource Officer Results
Q&A: Chief Alexander on Communication, Reimagining, and Respect
Q&A: Chief Alexander, Dr. Whitaker, and Superintendent Jackson on School Behaviors
Q&A: Judge Nickinson, Chief Alexander, Dr. Whitaker, and Ms. Humphries on Civil Citations
Q&A: Ms. Donna Waters, Escambia County School Board Attorney on Civil Citations
Q&A: Ms. McDaniel and Superintendent Jackson on Larger Social Issues Affecting Schools
Q&A: Chief Alexander on Training School Resource Officers
Q&A: Chief Alexander, Judge Nickinson, and Superintendent Jackson on What Concerned Residents Can Do To Help Save Our Children
Closing Remarks by Dr. Harper, Chief Alexander, and Ms. Humphries