NAACP Protests Student Monitoring
Jim Schoettler, jacksonville.com (FL), Mar. 5
A hotly debated Jacksonville police program that tracks disruptive students became a little more controversial Thursday when the NAACP and a few ministers called for its suspension.
Those seeking to halt the Monitoring At-Risk Students program said their concerns included the lack of parental notification if the students are in the top 25 and the criteria used to rank them.
The group also said they worried that Sheriff John Rutherford was trying to undermine opposition by secretly rallying support from ministers and other community leaders.
But Rutherford replied that police started notifying parents last month, after the change was announced at a meeting where some opponents were present. He also said select criteria, such as tardiness referrals, are not being used to list students despite the opposition’s allegations.
And, Rutherford said he will meet the NAACP and anyone else to discuss the program.
“Honestly, we didn’t market it very well,” Rutherford said. “I didn’t think it needed marketing. Obviously, I was wrong. I am trying to do that now.”
The program uses a selection of school referrals and police contacts to list the 25 most disruptive middle and high school students each month. School resource officers are required to meet three times a week with the top five students to offer them counseling and other help.
Proponents say the program can prevent future trouble, while opponents have said it appears racist and is ill-defined. Sixty-five percent of the most disruptive students are black, while 43 percent of the student population is black.
The demands by the local NAACP and about a half-dozen ministers to suspend the program came during a news conference arranged by the Rev. R.L. Gundy, whose efforts to oppose the program were thwarted last week by a group he chairs that is studying the issue.
Gundy said he took the action after Rutherford met with ministers and other officials this week to tout the program, which a city-funded juvenile justice steering committee is set to review today.
Isaiah Rumlin, president of the local NAACP branch, said authorities knew about concerns he and others have about the program and Rutherford should have included them in his meetings.
“My concern is that maybe he’s trying to undermine the NAACP and other pastors by having a secret meeting and not informing the stakeholders,” Rumlin said. “They did not have the data we received, so a sound decision could not have been made.”
Rutherford said he had a meeting scheduled with Rumlin Wednesday but had to cancel to go out of town on business. He said he and Rumlin rescheduled the meeting for Friday, March 12.
“I am reaching out into the community to inform them about this program,” the sheriff said. “They are not secret meetings.”
Rutherford said he hopes to further ease concerns about the program by making cosmetic changes such as renaming it Managing and Resourcing Students and labeling the students “contacts” rather than “offenders.”
Police say one sign the program works is that the number of referrals for the top five students has decreased from 665 in September, the first full month of school, to 408 in January. At the same time, the number of contacts with those students by school resource officers has increased from 192 in September to 406 in January.
But opponents say the disproportionate number of contacts with blacks and the use of such criteria as failing to follow directions to put someone on the list shows its flaws. There were 1,166 referrals for failure to follow directions — the most of any referral category — noted for students on the list between August and January.