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Broward schools sidestep Florida law on controversial Promise program

Scott Travis, Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Broward County school district has revised its description of the controversial Promise program, a move that allows it to sidestep a new state law requiring schools to share more information with law enforcement.

A state law passed last year -- after the mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- requires that children who go through pre-arrest diversion programs must be entered into a state database run by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Reluctant to share that information, the Broward school district now says Promise is not really a diversion program -- it's an "alternative to external suspension" program, meaning it doesn't fall under the new law.

The district initially decided its data must be shared and started doing so Feb. 6, officials said. But then, worried that the actions were making kids more prone to arrest, the district stopped the practice March 4.

"I'm not in favor of giving data that's going to accumulate and be used in a punitive way to levy points that could hurt students,' Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood said.

The goal of the law was to identify dangerous students like the Parkland killer before they created a crisis. It aimed to give law enforcement access to a child's full criminal history, including diversions, so they could decide if an arrest was necessary.

 

The school district's general counsel, Barbara Myrick, said in a March 15 memo to Superintendent Robert Runcie and Mickey Pope, an administrator overseeing the program, that a diversion program has a specific definition under state law. She cited a police-issued civil citation as a type of state-defined diversion, as well as programs requiring a child to surrender a driver's license and "neighborhood restorative justice programs."

"It is clear that the Promise Program does not meet the statutory definition of a diversion program and therefore, a student's information/data regarding participation in the Promise Program should not be entered into the Department of Juvenile Justice's Information System database," she wrote.

State Attorney Mike Satz disagrees.

"We have always felt and we still feel that Promise is a diversion program," Satz said in a statement. "We believe there is a requirement under the law to enter the information into the Department of Juvenile Justice database."

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