The Florida juvenile justice system came under scrutiny from the federal courts as a result of a federal class action lawsuit in 1983. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 14-year old boy referred to as Bobby M. and three other children who were confined at the Arthur G. Dozier Training School for Boys in Marianna, the Florida School for Boys in Okeechobee, and the Alyce D. McPherson School for Girls in Ocala. The Bobby M. complaint alleged inhumane conditions and treatment in the three existing training schools that served as Florida’s highest security facilities for juvenile offenders.

Juvenile Justice Act of 1990

In response to the Bobby M. case, the Juvenile Justice Act of 1990 completely revamped Florida’s juvenile justice system. The Juvenile Justice Act recognized similarities in the needs of delinquent and dependent children and authorized funding for enhanced prevention and early intervention service needs and risk assessments, reduction in the use of secure detention, alternative placement and supervision, and treatment programs to meet the needs of juveniles.

Quality Assurance Reviews

There was a consensus among DOE, the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), and the Florida Legislature that a strong internal quality assurance (QA) review process was necessary to ensure more effective treatment for youth at risk, and in 1996, the Legislature created 1003.52, F.S., “Educational Services in DJJ Programs”, which authorized DOE to conduct educational quality assurance reviews, annually revise the QA standards and key indicators, and write an annual report on the status of juvenile justice educational programs to be included in DJJ’s Annual Report to the Legislature. This legislation defined the educational services that are required to be provided by a local school district to each DJJ detention center and commitment program. It also contained additional requirements for school districts and for evaluation of juvenile justice programs, including allocations of resources and teacher competencies.

In 1996, DOE awarded a project to the University of North Florida to coordinate the educational QA review process. Educational programs in 182 juvenile justice facilities were assessed using the four QA review standards. Key indicators for each standard were rated based on the quality of performance in the facility. In 1998, the project between DOE and the University of North Florida ended, and DOE awarded a new contract to Florida State University. On June 1, 1998, the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University began this project with DOE to conduct QA reviews and conduct research related to Florida’s juvenile justice educational programs. This program was named the Juvenile Justice Educational Enhancement Program (JJEEP).

HB 349 Extensive reform in Juvenile Justice Education Programs

In 1999, the Florida Legislature passed HB 349. This bill required extensive reform in Florida’s juvenile justice educational programs and maintained weighted funding for juvenile justice schools. The impact of HB 349 was felt at the state, district, and school levels and established an overall increase in accountability and responsibility. The major impact at the state level was to clearly place the accountability for and responsibility of juvenile justice education under the authority of the DOE and to establish a mechanism to ensure that research, QA, and technical assistance would be conducted to improve the quality of that education. Though these activities and principles were already guiding JJEEP’s mission, HB 349 established them as law. More specifically, the bill required that research be conducted to identify best practices in juvenile justice education, allowed for sanctions to be placed on low performing schools, and mandated that technical assistance be provided to schools as needed. In addition, HB 349 clearly established the responsibility of the school districts to oversee the operation of juvenile justice schools.

The major impact of HB 349 at the school level included requirements for year-round schooling, waiving General Educational Development (GED) testing fees, developing academic improvement plans (AIPs) for all students, conducting specific academic record keeping, providing transition services and activities, developing a school improvement plan (SIP), and delivering appropriate curriculum and instruction to every student based on his or her individual requirements and needs.

Overall, this legislation clearly provided the beginning of a comprehensive structure and accountability system for Florida’s juvenile justice education and established Florida as a national leader in juvenile justice education. Further, the passage of this bill, as well as other legislation has resulted not only in increasingly stringent accountability mechanisms but also in more positive outcomes for Florida’s delinquent youths.

SB 2464

SB 2464 (2000) clarified, modified, and/or amended provisions in HB 349 (1999). In addition, the bill focused on three major studies conducted by DOE with assistance from JJEEP: a vocational/technical education study for incarcerated youths, a funding study to identify an appropriate funding level for juvenile justice education, and a facility space study to determine the available or needed classroom space for educational programs in DJJ facilities.

The vocational education study established the curriculum, goals, and outcome measures for vocational/technical programs in juvenile justice schools. The State Plan for Vocational Education for Youth in Juvenile Justice Commitment Facilities was completed and implemented during fall 2001. The plan outlined juvenile justice school requirements for offering vocational programming and increased JJEEP’s QA monitoring of vocational curriculum and instruction.

The purpose of the funding study was to determine the precise funding level necessary to provide educational services in DJJ facilities. The study was submitted to the Governor of Florida and the Florida Legislature in 2001, recommending a cost factor of 1.602 for all nonspecial-education students and students with disabilities currently funded at levels I and II. The study’s second recommendation required a QA standard for monitoring funding. Since 2001, JJEEP has required school districts to monitor educational funding, and DOE has annually reported the actual dollars spent in each juvenile justice school.

DOE conducted the facility space study to determine the adequacy of educational space within each juvenile justice facility. From this study, DOE and DJJ developed a three-year plan to address any facility deficiencies found. Recommendations for addressing these deficiencies included renovations/replacements and new construction/additions. The Florida Legislature did not fund these recommendations, which resulted in continued problems concerning the lack of sufficient educational space. JJEEP continues to address adequate educational space in facilities; however, since space is the responsibility of DJJ, both JJEEP and DOE are limited in monitoring and resolving issues regarding adequate educational space. Clearly, educational space is a continuing problem area that warrants more attention both in terms of funding for expanded space and designating DOE rather than DJJ as responsible for monitoring educational space related issues. SB 2464 also added several new requirements, including: (1) the development of a cooperative agreement between DJJ and DOE for the enhancement of juvenile justice educational services, (2) the requirement that youths who have not received a high school diploma or the equivalent participate in vocational/technical education (contingent upon funding availability) if they are not employed while in a DJJ program, and (3) the provision of educational services for minors in adult county jails.

In addition to SB 2464, DOE (in conjunction with JJEEP, DJJ, school districts, and education providers) developed the first State Board of Education Rule for juvenile justice education services. Rule 6A-6.05281, Education Services in Department of Juvenile Justice Programs was a key provision of HB 349 in 1999 and was enacted in 2000. The requirements established in this administrative rule include eligibility criteria for youths served in educational programs, the content and transfer of student records, entry and exit assessment, individual academic planning, transition services, instructional programming and academic expectations, qualifications of instructional staff, funding, contracting with private providers for the provision of educational services, interventions and sanctions for low performing programs, and interagency coordination. The requirements of this Rule closely followed the QA standards, which were developed based upon best practices identified in the literature. As a result, the Rule provided state administrative authority for the QA standards and indicators. Overall, the legislation passed in 2000 continued Florida’s efforts to develop an information-based accountability system for juvenile justice education and provided the means of holding low performing programs accountable.

In 2001, there was little legislation specifically aimed at juvenile justice education. HB 267 (2001) required “no contact” orders for youths returning to school after release from DJJ. In particular, certain students are prohibited from attending the same school as their victim or their victim’s siblings, and school principals are required to take specific actions when a student becomes the victim of a violent crime committed by a fellow student.

Just Read, Florida!

In September 2001, Governor Bush authorized the Just Read, Florida! initiative. This initiative relies on scientifically based research to improve current reading programs, standards, teaching strategies, and course requirements. Its goal is to have all children reading fluently by the end of the third grade and “for all students in Florida to be able to read on grade level or higher by 2012” (DOE, 2001, p.1). Because juvenile justice students tend to have larger reading deficiencies compared to children attending public schools, the goals established by the Just Read, Florida! initiative set a high bar for these students to meet. This initiative has led to the development of new QA standards for reading and numerous DOE technical assistance documents and trainings. The current benchmarks related to reading require identification of students who have reading deficiencies, provision of evidence-based reading programs and instruction for these identified students, monitoring of students’ reading progress and growth, and administration of diagnostic assessments to those students who are not progressing in reading.

No Child Left Behind

In 2002 and 2003, major legislation affecting juvenile justice education resulted from the federal government enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This legislation posed unprecedented challenges for the reform of the country’s school system. NCLB mandates that the country’s juvenile justice schools meet the same high standards as all other elementary and secondary public schools.

Under NCLB, juvenile justice teachers must meet highly qualified teacher requirements, which include holding a bachelor’s degree, having professional certification, and showing competency in each subject they teach. NCLB provides states with an outline of requirements to be followed in order for teachers to be considered highly qualified, yet allows a considerable amount of discretion in designing and defining the rules for certification and subject-area competency.

NCLB requirements for annual yearly progress (AYP) include requiring programs to show a 95% participation rate in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), FCAT performance results, Florida Writes assessment results, and graduation results. Meeting these requirements is particularly difficult for many juvenile justice schools due to several factors, including the short length of stay, the mobility of the students, and disproportionate educational deficiencies. Title I, Part D, requires an accountability and program evaluation system compatible with the smaller numbers of students, mobility issues, and temporary placements found in juvenile justice schools. All juvenile justice schools must receive a program evaluation, which includes the monitoring of student performance in the areas of maintaining and improving educational achievement, accruing school credits for grade promotion, making a successful transition back to school after release, completing high school and obtaining employment after release, and/or participating in post-secondary education and job training.

Since one of the goals of Title I, Part D, is to successfully return students to public schools after their release from institutions, transition services are strongly emphasized in the legislation. State and local education agencies are required to provide transition services and a means for incarcerated students to successfully return to school upon release. Federal funds are to be used for such purposes, and states must demonstrate progress on the development of effective transition services.

HB 1989 and SB 2564

In 2004, the Florida Legislature enacted HB 1989, the first state bill in three years that is specific to juvenile justice education. Among other initiatives, this bill requires the formation of several interagency committees to address different areas in juvenile justice education. The Legislature also enacted numerous general education and custody care bills: two education bills that directly affect juvenile justice education through middle grades reform and accelerated graduation options and SB 2564, which requires local counties to fund juvenile detention centers.

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