Last fall, Chamberlain High School student Brittany Overstreet suffered a concussion and broken jaw after a violent incident with a school resource officer (SRO) — an incident that still reverberates with young activists who say that black teenagers are being pushed into the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The incident involving Overstreet remains in dispute, with reports saying that three students approached Chamberlain’s assistant principal last September and alleged that Overstreet threatened to spray them with mace or pepper spray. An altercation then ensued when the female assistant principal confiscated Overstreet’s bag, causing an SRO to be called in. Police then say the teenage girl got aggressive, leading the officer to respond in kind. Ultimately she suffered those injuries, though Tampa Police insist that she was hurt by resisting an officer and ultimately falling to the ground.
In recent weeks a nascent activist group has formed to keep her issue in the news, and today members of the Bay Area Activist Coalition called on the Hillsborough County School Board to begin changing their policies to address how disproportionate the punishment for black youth is in Hillsborough schools.
Blue Rainer asked why were Latinos, blacks, LGBTQ and handicapped students being suspended more than other students in the community. “We can’t just let kids go down. It’s up to us. The ones coming now to protect our future,” he told board members. Devon Cheeves mentioned the fact that Hillsborough has one of the worst black graduation rates in the state. And Ashley Greene said that the district was failing too many students. “Too many of our students are leaving high school with criminal records,” she worried.
Activist Char Singleton said the Brittany Overstreet case was a “direct case of how black and brown children are being funneled into the school to prison pipeline,” and she asked School Board members that she’d like some answers about whether they were going to help them.
Last June the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights contacted the Hillsborough School District after receiving a complaint filed by community activist Marilyn Williams. The complaint alleged that Hillsborough discriminates against black students by subjecting them to harsher discipline than white students and by denying access to experienced teachers for schools serving poorer students.
The Office for Civil Rights then requested dozens of records over the past three school years, broken down by school, including discipline statistics, policies and procedures, descriptions of all offenses for which students can be written a referral, the role of school resource officers in the disciplinary process and the number of years each teacher has been in the profession.
Interim Superintendent Jeff Eakins informed the activists today that the School Board convened a task force nearly a year ago to deal with this issue, and he invited them to the next meeting of the group scheduled for this Friday. “They’re going to be developing recommendations on the issues you brought up,” he told them.
The school board has also been convening “community chats,” dealing with the same issue.
School Board member Dorothea Edgecomb said it would be helpful for members of the Bay Area Activist Coalition to attend the next community chat scheduled for Wednesday night at King High School. “Not to point fingers,” she said. “But to solve problems.”
The Tampa Tribune reported last year that in the 2012-13 school year, the graduation rate for black Hillsborough students as measured by federal standards was just 59 percent, a slight increase from the previous year. That compares to the districtwide rate of 74 percent. In schools nationwide in the 2011-12 school year, black students without disabilities were more than three times as likely as whites to be expelled or suspended. That rate was comparable in Hillsborough County.