No more 24-7 operator for Duval County school safety hotline

I-TEAM learns school district did away with live operator due to funding issues

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A hotline created last year for Duval County students to use to report potential school threats no longer has a live operator answering the phone, the I-TEAM has learned.

When Duval County Public Schools announced the addition of the safety hotline last March, officials said trained personnel with Duval County School Board Police would be monitoring the tip line 24 hours a day. 

That's no longer the case.

Changes to the tip line were made sometime last year, and now calls – including six from the I-TEAM on Tuesday – go directly to voicemail.

WATCH: I-TEAM digs into change, as calls now go directly to voicemail

Here's what we heard when we called Tuesday:

“You have reached the Duval County school police violence tip hotline. All the lines are busy at this time. Please leave a message, including a name and number, and we’ll return your call. Thank you for your patience. Your call will be returned as soon as possible.” 

That's the message a child would hear if he or she wanted to report a potential school shooter or other threat.

The next day, a new voice message had been recorded -- urging students to, instead, call police. Here's what the I-TEAM heard when we called Wednesday:

"You have reached a non-working number at Duval County Public Schools. If you are trying to reach Duval County Public School police, please hang up and dial 855-3319. That number, again, is 855-3319. Thank you."

When Duval County's safety hotline was rolled out last year, then-Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti said it was an additional strategy to keep schools safe. 

School administrators told News4Jax last March that Duval police would use the hotline to ask students for critical information, such as a location, the time and the individuals involved in the incident. They said all tips would be immediately evaluated by supervisors. 

But sometime last year, a school district spokeswoman said, they did away with the live phone operator because of funding issues. The school district admitted administrators failed to tell students and teachers about the change in reporting threats via the tip line.

The spokeswoman sent the I-TEAM the following statement Wednesday night:

"We are grateful to News4Jax for alerting us to this gap in our service. We’ve changed the message to now direct callers to contact our school police department. We acknowledge that this should have occurred when we made the decision not to staff this line at the beginning of the school year due to budget concerns.

"Note that we have not actively promoted this number since the conclusion of last school year. We have been consistent in urging students to “see something – say something” by informing an adult on campus, including our school-based police officers.  

"It’s also important to note that since May of 2017, only 10 calls were received on the line. Only one was in relation to a potential threat, and that threat was already under investigation. However, we are committed to increasing the number of ways for students, families and the community to report safety threats to law enforcement. We are exploring creative options to provide this service using existing resources for the 2018-19 school year. In the meantime, we ask that any reports of threats continue to be reported to an adult on campus or directly to school police by calling 904-855-3319."

Parents were disappointed to hear that funding is an obstacle when it comes to students' safety.

"It shouldn't be a funding issue," parent Myra Henry said. "We should find money from anywhere to keep our kids safe."

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