At last night's ACLU of Broward County meeting, Ceresta Smith, a United Opt Out administrator, spoke with a group of around 30 in Plantation, Florida. She is a National Board Certified Teacher. Speaking to a mostly liberal crowd, Smith kept her message centered on the problems plaguing the way Florida children are educated and surprised many with the option that their children are not required to take the FCAT (Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test) or comply with Common Core testing. Students can take the Concordant Scores Option by earning a passing score on the S.A.T. or A.C.T.
Smith was introduced by former Libertarian and current Republican, Mark Eckert, who was recently elected to the local ACLU chapter. In Eckert's introduction of Smith he recited how he came about meeting her in a search for his 14 year old teenager not to be forced into complying with FCAT. Smith is the Florida leader for United Opt Out (UOO) who, according to their website, believe "that high stakes testing is destructive to ALL children, educators, communities, the quality of instruction in classrooms, equity in schooling, and the democratic principles which underlie the purposes of public education." Smith said about the high stakes testing, "There is very little time for them [the students] to develop a love for learning. Everything is focused on the test."
Smith said the problem of 'zero tolerance' policies in schools is that it facilitates a school to prison pipeline that disproportionately affects African American, Latino, impoverished and special needs students. Students who are suspended or face an infraction will often be sent to jail or Baker Acted without being convicted of a crime. What once was an act that caused a student to go to the principal's office is now a trip for mental evaluation. Smith is encouraged the 'zero tolerance' stance is changing for the better in Broward and Miami-Dade public schools, however students continue to be arrested for minor infractions. She brought in Arnetha Thomas to speak for a few minutes to speak about how her organization, Solid Rock Enterprise, works to interface with students to turn around negative situations - keeping students out of jail and in school.
Smith also touched on the issue of Common Core saying it's "a double-edged sword. It's probably OK for high school students, but when you get down to the elementary level it can be damaging to those students. High stakes testing doesn't allow brains to develop well."
The talk last night was actually titled 'School to Prison Pipeline: The problem and the solution', however due to time constraints and lots of questions from those in attendance, she did not focus on how students go from school to prison. Smith pointed out that 40% of students expelled from U.S. schools each year are black and 68% of males in state and federal prison do not have a high school diploma. 90% of low-income black students in high-poverty schools were not reading at grade level by the fourth grade which causes frustration and a lack of desire to attend school. Although blacks constitute only 21% of Florida youth, 46% of school-related referrals to law enforcement.
Smith, and many in attendance, were skeptical of private, for-profit prisons. She stated that one company, Boca Raton-based GEO Group, owns 2 prisons in Florida and is lobbying legislators in Tallahassee to increase it to 29. Although GEO has been trying for some time to increase the number of prisons it operates in Florida, it has not been successful, even though it has paid in excess of $850,000 to political interests in Florida. She also states that The Gates Foundation, headed by technology billionaire Bill Gates, owns a 3.2% stake in G4S (a competitor to GEO) and is a "major force in advocating for standardization."
Also included in Smith's speech was related to the over-medication of students stating a New York study "found boys of color are 11 times more likely to be on medication than the general student body." She also said a Michigan State University study revealed Ritalin and Prozac were being prescribed to toddlers ages 1 to 3 years old.
Lastly, she plead with the crowd to support Trayvon's Law, named after the infamously murdered Trayvon Martin. Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in self defense, for which Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury. Smith is supporting this effort to infringe on the Second Amendment in order to repeal Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law even though Zimmerman did not use the law in his defense.
Libertarians agree with the ACLU on most issues, however they do have their disagreements. The ACLU gave the 2012 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson their highest rating in its Liberty Watch Scorecard - above Barack Obama and Ron Paul.