When a student in a traditional school acts up, some Florida school districts choose to reassign that student to an alternative school. Until recently, students didn't have a way to appeal that decision like they would an expulsion.
The American Civil Liberties Union Florida affiliate wrote letters to all Florida school districts last week informing them of a recent court ruling stemming from a case in Escambia County that districts must provide due process rights for students who are "alternatively placed."
The civil rights group found that the December ruling affects 7,000 students a year who are involuntarily reassigned to an alternative school. The group also found that black students were 2.5 times more likely to be placed in an alternative school.
More rural districts like Jefferson, Jackson and Hardee counties led the state in alternative placements, with rates exceeding 60 reassigned placements out of 1,000 students. The group found that Leon and Sarasota counties had the largest racial disparities in their alternative placements, with black students 12.5 and 8.6 times more likely, respectively, to be placed in an alternative school compared to white students.
According to ACLU Florida's data, Pinellas had the highest rate of students placed in an alternative program in the Tampa Bay area. In 2015-16, Pinellas had 421 alternative placements out of roughly 100,000 students, or about 4 students for every 1,000. Black students had the highest alternative placement rate in the county.
Pinellas has several alternative education programs, including two for discipline: Pinellas Secondary and Pinellas Teleschool.