Officials hope new code of conduct curbs school violence

Duval County creates stiffer penalties for fighting, bullying

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County School Board approved measures over the summer to improve student safety.

Parents and administrators hope stiffer penalties in the student code of conduct for fighting, along with anti-bullying initiatives, will help reduce the number of violent incidents in Duval County schools.

One of the big concerns this year was weapons on school grounds. There were 10 incidents last year where guns were discovered on school campuses, leading to eight arrests. The number was down from the previous year, when 14 guns were brought onto school grounds and 17 arrests were made.

"In just about every case, it was found because a student went to an administrator and let them know what was going on," News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said.

Since last year, 20 behavioral specialists have been assigned to local middle schools to act as "motivational coaches," targeting at-risk students who have a history of disciplinary problems in school. Students are identified through previous referrals from elementary schools, lack of attendance or suspensions.

"We're engaging them early and providing them an outlet to express themselves when they're frustrated or disengaged or have conflict with other students so that doesn't manifest itself with fighting and misbehaving in the classroom," Duval County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti said.

The district is also cracking down on fights on school buses. There were 558 fights involving students on local buses last year. This year, students will face a month's suspension from the bus for the first fight plus a week out-of-school suspension with the possibility of being suspended from riding the bus indefinitely.

The changes will also use the district's Alternative to Out-of-School Suspension Centers to work with students with bad behavior in a learning environment instead of keeping them at home.

The district is continuing to tackle the problem of bullying. There are several initiatives urging students to speak up if they are victims of bullying or if they witness it.

"I think this will help prevent more violence if the school lets the students know that these enhanced penalties are in place," Smith said.

Click here for more information on Duval County Public Schools' code of conduct.