JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 40 gang members attend Duval County public schools, according to the Duval County School Board Police Department.
The School Board Police released the number in a community meeting in Northwest Jacksonville aimed at getting violence among young people down in the Jacksonville community.
With about 115,000 students in the school district, the number represents less than 1 percent of all students. But it's still a number that school and community leaders want to see decrease.
Duval County School Board police officials weren't available Tuesday to tell News4Jax the specific schools the gang members attend or the students' ages.
But one board member said that she believes overall Duval County schools are safe, although she admits there is a lot of work to be done.
People in Northwest Jacksonville were still thinking about some of the information they heard a day after a community meeting aimed at helping people better understand local gangs and how prevalent they are in the school system.
"To hear that number, at 43 plus, that was disturbing, but enlightening," Pastor Clifford Johnson said. "It just means that we have to work harder."
Johnson pastors Zion Hope Missionary Baptist Church, where the meeting was held. He said hearing that information and more from police about how gangs are targeting students in middle schools helps him and everyone who came together in the meeting to better plan to stop violence.
"We can tailor our message to them," Johnson said. "Not just wait until they get in high school. We have to do it while they are younger."
Dr. Connie Hall, school board member in District 5, organized the meeting. She said she knows some parents may be concerned by the numbers, but said now, it's about action to turn them around.
"In order for Jacksonville to have state-of-the-art schools and provide a quality education, it's not a school district issue alone," Hall said.
While she and others work on that issue, News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said for now, parents should not be concerned about gang members in their student's school.
"If they were involved in some type of gang activity at the school, they would have been arrested or they would have been dealt with," Smith said. "So I don't think it's a major concern for parents at this point."
Smith said officers would not treat the students any differently because they have been identified as gang members unless they break the law or school rules.