Florida passes bill to deal with legacy of notorious Dozier school
Dozier School's infamous "White House." (Photo: YouTube)

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Seeking to address a “dark stain” on Florida’s history, the state Legislature is offering to pay to rebury students whose remains were once interred on the grounds of a now shuttered reform school.

Legislators on Tuesday sent to Gov. Rick Scott a measure that attempts to come to terms with the notorious legacy of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. The Marianna school located 60 miles west of Tallahassee was shuttered in 2011 and some former students have accused school officials of physical and sexual abuse.

The University of South Florida recently concluded a multi-year investigation of the campus and researchers exhumed dozens of bodies buried there.

The bill sent to Scott would provide up to $7,500 for funeral and burial expenses for each exhumed body. It also would require officials to preserve records, artifacts and remains found on the school site. Lastly, the legislation would create a task force charged with devising plans for a memorial and figuring out what to do with any unidentified or unclaimed remains.

Rep. Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, called it a “small gesture that will close a chapter for some and begin a healing process.”

“These boys that were placed in the state’s hands deserve better than unmarked graves,” Narain said.

The school, which opened in 1900, initially was a home for children convicted of serious crimes. But researchers say the covered offenses were expanded to include minor offenses including truancy.

For at least a decade, some former students from the 1950s and 1960s have accused employees and guards at the school of physical and sexual abuse.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded after an investigation that it couldn’t substantiate or dispute the claims because too much time had passed. Many former Dozier inmates from that era call themselves “The White House Boys” after the white building where they say the worst abuse took place.

The final report from USF concludes that nearly 100 people, including two adult staff members, died at Dozier between 1900 and 1973. But the records are incomplete and in some instances there are no records of where people were buried.

According to researchers, the school underreported deaths; didn’t provide death certificates, names or details in many cases, particularly involving black boys; and simply reported some boys who disappeared as no longer at the school. One 16-year-old in 1960 died from gunshot wounds by “person or persons unknown.”

One remaining question is not resolved by the bill: What should happen with the school property? Survivors and business and political leaders in Marianna have been at odds over whether the roughly 1,400 site should remain closed or whether some of the land should be handed over to the city.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, said that while there should be a memorial on the site he said he hoped that the state can “take a dark stain and turn it into a new light” by reaching out to the local community.

Gary Fineout


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