New superintendent dealing with teacher arrest
Nikolai Vitti says district must be proactive after 5 recent teacher sex cases
New Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is dealing with his first public crisis since taking the top job in the Duval County Public Schools system.
Vitti is promising swift action after a high school teacher was arrested on charges of having sex with a minor.
Danielle Reed, 23, an English teacher at Atlantic Coast High, is the fifth Duval County teacher charged with a sex crime in the last year and a half. Her arrest is the first Vitti is dealing with, Wednesday marking just his second day on the job, but it's clear this is a trend that needs some major attention.
Vitti said it's time to be proactive. He's promising to do that by ensuring all of his employees are trained on how to spot red flags.
"It's important to acknowledge that that was an anomaly," Vitti said of the latest case. "We have great teachers throughout this district, thousands of great teachers, and this is one bad example of one bad choice."
But it's a choice investigators say four other Duval County teachers have made within the last year and a half, with the former local educators facing sex crime charges of their own.
"We have to have a sense of urgency and own the problem and recognize that this has happened too many times, and we need to go back and create new systems, create a culture where adults and children feel comfortable about saying that something might be wrong," Vitti said.
Vitti is picking up where former Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals left off. The district was criticized after 26-year-old Christopher Bacca, twice named teacher of the year, was arrested on charges of having a sexual relationship with a child. He was removed from his teaching position at Long Branch Elementary School because of allegations he was having an inappropriate relationship with a minor. He was later rehired as a teacher at Windy Hill Elementary School, even after the state's recommendation that Bacca not be in a classroom, as noted in his personnel file.
Pratt-Dannals formed a Human Resources committee to review the district's policies and procedures regarding teacher discipline. Vitti is taking it one step further.
"We are creating a new position in Human Resources to specifically track allegations such as this and any other improper behavior on a part of employees so that we're much more responsive to any leads to prevent it and to prevent it from happening and to hold teachers accountable if something like this happens in the future," Vitti said.
The news of Reed's arrest is still spreading down the halls at Atlantic Coast High, with students agreeing the district should ramp up its efforts.
"I believe personally that she should not be allowed back in unless there's some really big evaluation going on," student Koen Vermeer said. "The district should really keep the teachers in check."
At a School Board meeting next month, Vitti will recommend suspension without pay pending termination for Reed.
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