In a Monday press release, Senator Kelli Stargel announced the Senate recommendation of an additional $200,000 of funding for research at the former Dozier School for Boys, once the largest juvenile reform institution in the United States, which was permanently closed under evidence of abuse and torture.
The Marianna school was founded in 1900; was segregated until 1968; and gained the reputation for staff beatings, rapes and even murder of students. Despite controversy, scrutiny and multiple revamps of the school’s practices and management nearly since its inception, the school routinely failed inspections and was unable to correct its culture of endemic violence.
On its campus exists a cemetery and various other unmarked burial grounds which contain the graves of a still unknown number of deceased students.
Recent investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in partnership with the Office of the Attorney General have only begun to address many of the mysteries surrounding the campus and its students.
A team of archaeologists and biologists from the University of South Florida has been using ground-penetrating radar, test excavations, and other techniques for a thorough inspection of the property to locate and identify gravesites, in part to chronicle who died there and to give relatives greater closure.
Glen Varnadoe’s uncle Thomas had been sent to the Dozier school in the 1930s at the age of 13 and died there a month later. Yet when Varnadoe attempted to exhume his uncle for burial at the family’s cemetery near Lakeland, he was only shown where his uncle might be buried — in a different area from where most graves were found.
“This funding is crucial to helping USF analyze the cemetery at the former school. This the right thing to do, so that we may provide some form of closure for the family members who tragically lost loved ones at this site,” said Senator Stargel.