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Eye on Jacksonville has commented several times about incidents of crime and violence in the local government schools. Now a grand jury has opined on the subject, hitting the local school system hard.

It concerns School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) data. A statewide grand jury singled out the local school system for poor performance when it comes to reporting incidents accurately.

Blame was placed on the local school system’s police department but the police union has said officers merely were following directives from the school administration.

Duval County’s numbers have differed significantly from those reported in other districts.

“No one is made safer by this chicanery,” the grand jury report said. “We have heard multiple accounts of students whose criminal behavior goes unreported who — either during their later school years or upon graduation — commit more significant crimes without understanding real-world consequences and reap longer prison terms.”

School Superintendent Diana Greene, whose most heralded achievement has been to push through a huge tax increase, recently was named Superintendent of the Year. If that was her high point, it was far from two years ago when she was raked over the coals by members of the state Board of Education because of the failing schools in this district.

Previously, Greene’s staff had said they differed with the interpretation of what was required to be reported under SESIR.

But, even though it noted improvements have been made in reporting, the grand jury was highly critical of the past practices.

“The Duval County School District’s written directives (likewise developed by administrators and mandated by the police chief and school administration alike) considered such things as extortion (a felony) and stalking to not require reports (and these are by no means the only examples),” the report said.

One problem is somewhat vague language in the law, which school districts have exploited. Thus, the grand jury found, “Physical attacks on teachers become “disturbances.” Large-scale brawls become ‘minor fights.’ The end-result of this misreporting is that voters do not have any idea how much crime and disruption is actually occurring in the schools, and law enforcement is often not informed any crime ever occurred because school administrators without any legal training have determined very serious felonies to be “petty acts of misconduct”.

On May 26, 2019 Eye noted that the local district led the state in doing little about crime in schools, although it had one of the highest rates: “Of 9,739 incidents that occurred in the previous school year, only 838 were reported to law enforcement,” Eye said. 

Eye had noted a month earlier that the head of the local police union had accused the school system of fudging the numbers. Our analysis of the statewide data then found that Duval had reported the fewest number of incidents to police in the state in 2016.

Greene said then that the situation might be the result of a “coding error” and promised to look into the matter. We didn’t hear anything further.

Gov. Ron DeSantis had asked for the grand jury investigation into school safety after the 2014 mass murders in Broward schools.

Critics have said Broward officials ignored clear signals that the shooter was dangerous and that Broward school officials, following directives from the Obama administration, had signed an agreement with the county sheriff and other local jurisdictions to “trade cops for counseling.” Students charged with various misdemeanors, including assault, subsequently were disciplined through participation in “healing circles,” obstacle courses and other “self-esteem building” exercises.

Coddling criminals never has worked and does not appear to be working now. As the grand jury said, favoring the 1 percent who are violators is a disservice to the 99 percent of students who are not. Local school officials need to report information accurately and take appropriate action for infractions.

There is also ample evidence that the district policy of having its own police force is not working and should be abandoned.

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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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