State to bury kids who died at boys school

TALLAHASSEE — Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law Wednesday that will reimburse the next of kin’s funeral expenses for the remains of children found buried at the Florida School for Boys in Marianna.

Senate Bill 708 (SB-708), sponsored by Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-19th District), was signed into law March 30 and will go into effect July 1.

The law authorizes the Florida Department of State (DOS) to reimburse the families or pay the provider or funeral home up to $7,500 for funeral, reinterment and grave marker expenses for each child’s remains recovered from the school by the University of South Florida (USF).

The school in Marianna is also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

SB-708 also requires all recovered human remains to be held by USF pending release to the next of kin, or reinterment.

This law comes on the heels of a long and arduous fight by men who are now known as The White House Boys. That moniker relates to a white concrete block building on the school’s grounds where boys at the school were taken to be beaten and sexually molested by male employees at the school.

Those men have claimed many boys died in the 1950s and ’60s as a result of those beatings and were then buried on school grounds.

In 2008 then-Governor Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate 32 unmarked graves at the school. That order came about after numerous complaints were lodged by The White House Boys.

FDLE identified 31 graves but did not exhume any bodies.

Dr. Erin Kimmerle, head of USF’s anthropology department, and her team conducted their own research that included excavation and exhumation. As of Jan. 28, 2014, that team had discovered 55 bodies.

There are no official records that account for 24 of those 55 bodies.

The Dozier school was operated by the state from Jan. 1, 1900, until June 30, 2011.

For fiscal year 2016-17, SB-708 appropriates $500,000 in nonrecurring funds from the state’s general revenue fund to the DOS to implement provisions of the bill. Any unused monies will revert to the general revenue fund and will be appropriated for fiscal year 2017-18.

The bill directs the DOS to contract with USF for the school’s continuing efforts to identify and locate the next of kin. It also directs USF to retain custody of historical resources, records, archives or artifacts found at Dozier as well as all human remains exhumed from the school’s grounds until the next of kin is found or those remains are reburied.

The bill also directs the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to pay an authorized invoice no later than 10 days after an agency’s filing. If a payment is not made within 40 days after receipt and approval, the agency must pay the vendor interest on the unpaid balance until that payment is issued to the vendor.

The law also:
• provides for the removal of provisions that require the DOS to do research and develop evidence taken from Dozier;
• provides for the removal of the provision requiring the DOS to create a memorial and, in its place, creates a task force to make recommendations about the creation of a memorial and where unclaimed remains should be reinterred;
• provides for the removal of the condition that payment be made to a funeral home only when the next of kin cannot pay for funeral and reinterment costs;
• provides for the removal of the requirement that DOS make payment to the next of kin within 14 days;
• provides that charitable donations made for the funeral and burial costs will not be reimbursed by the state;
• provides that the DOS should locate the next of kin by Dec. 31, 2017;
• provides that the DOS will file a report with the legislature on the status of payments made by Feb. 1, 2018; and,
• reduces funding to a total of $500,000 to be spent over the next two fiscal years.

Besides the Marianna school, the state also operated a Florida School for Boys in Okeechobee. Several men have come forward with stories dealing with physical and sexual abuse meted out by male employees at that school. There have also been suggestions that student remains have been buried on school grounds.

Detective Captain John Rhoden, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), was tasked with investigating those claims.

His probe included the use of cadaver dogs to search the school grounds in 2015. After several days, the search failed to find any human remains.

Capt. Rhoden is still working on his report that details what was said and what was actually corroborated by his investigation.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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