Vitti: School violence criticism 'irresponsible'

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is responding to some harsh criticisms of his district made by a county judge.

Juvenile Judge Henry Davis wrote an opinion article to the Florida Times-Union saying, "Duval County Schools are unable to protect nonviolent kids from disruptive and violent classmates."

In a two-page letter, Davis said it's impossible to operate a high quality public school system in Duval County because he said the criminal and immoral behavior that exists in the community is transferred into the schools.

Vitti said the judge's opinion is shortsighted.

"What's disappointing to me is that we are linking troubled youth and the experiences of Judge Davis to all schools and all children," Vitti said.

He said Davis' comments don't tell the whole story about a school district that has spent millions of dollars on safety. Vitti said Davis' comments are irresponsible.

"If you walk in any of our schools on any day, you'll see our kids learning at a high level," he said. "You won't see kids running amuck or constant interruptions and problems. Unfortunately, his perspective is based on the toughest and most troubled kids that he's seen."

Davis, in a phone interview, said Duval schools are deteriorating, and he's worried about what he calls the culture of violence.

In the letter to the newspaper, he also refers to "attacks that occur in the community, as children are walking to and from their schools and bus stops." The judge is making reference to the case of 14-year-old Aria Jewett, who was attacked near Oceanway Middle School by another student.

Vitti said that reference isn't fair.

"The latest incident he cites didn't happen in public schools. It happened in the community when someone got off a bus," Vitti said.

Attorney John Phillips represents the 14 year old, and he is siding with the judge.

"I'm getting a call a week from people with children who are beaten or intimidated, that they have to call a lawyer. That's a problem," Phillips said.

Still, Vitti said the judge's statements do more damage than good.

"It defeats and discredits what we do on a day-to-day basis, and it discredits all the kids that have escaped poverty in Jacksonville," Vitti said.

He said students are getting involved in fights and confrontations at bus stops and other places in the community because they know solid safeguards have been put in place in the school along with stricter penalties.

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