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Data: Number of fights at Duval County public schools decreasing

School district says mental health now a big part in disciplining students

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – School leaders say they’re making strides in putting a stop to students fighting in school.

There have been fewer fights at Duval County public schools in the first 125 days of this school year compared to last year, according to disciplinary data released Wednesday morning by the school district.

In 2017, fighting and physical attacks on students were two of the top 10 disciplinary infractions in Duval County public schools. There were 3,254 fighting infractions and 2,888 physical attacks on students.

The numbers aren’t yet available for 2018, but neither fighting or physical attacks made the top 10 last year.

Jackie Simmons, executive director of discipline and student support services for the school district, explained how the district has worked to improve these numbers. 

"What we call restorative justice and restorative practice. It is a non-punitive way we address issues systematically and schools," Simmons said. "And we’re trying to get in front of altercations and things that happened with students prior to it escalating to a fight."

VIEW: Presentation on discipline and student support

Students and parents told News4Jax that overall, they feel school safety is improving.

"I do think it’s a positive," said Jennifer Altman, a mother of two. "It's going down. I can think of one time my middle school daughter said, 'There’s a fight in school.'"

"It's really safe at school," said Justin Farhat, a 16-year-old student. "Usually, there's two police officers on campus."

While fighting has gone down, classroom disruption and unauthorized absence from class remain the top two disciplinary infractions with more than 11,000 write-ups in both 2017 and 2018.

According to school leaders, another common problem is students being on their cellphones when they’re not supposed to be. The district says there is good technology in the classroom and not so good, and they encourage parents to speak with their children about the appropriate use of cellphones at school. 

And when it comes to disciplining students, according to the district, mental health now plays a big role.

The district says Senate Bill 7026, which was passed last year after the Parkland tragedy, requires school districts to connect a student who is written up for certain infractions, such as bringing a weapon onto campus, with mental health services. 

The district says it already had a great program in place called Full Service Schools before the Parkland school shooting and school leaders were able to expand on that after the shooting to meet new criteria as part of the legislation that went into effect. 

Full Service Schools means schools collaborate with outside agencies -- such as the Kids Hope Alliance, Jewish Family, Children’s Home Society and more  -- to provide therapeutic, health and social services to students who need them.

Since the mental health upgrades following Parkland, the district is seeing increases in numbers of students actually being able to access the help they need. The district says the increase in those numbers is a good thing, as it means students have access to the services and feel comfortable using them, which is a great thing not only for the school system but the city and community at large.