Site aims to boost transparency, increase safety, creators say
News4Jax | by Joe McLean | February 1, 2021
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new, online tool is helping make information about Florida’s school-based crimes more transparent to the public, but it may not be showing everything.
The portal, School Incident Report, was presented by Max Schachter, who founded its host website Safe Schools for Alex. Schachter named the organization after his son, Alex Schachter, who was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The data compiled on the new site is from the Florida Department of Education SESIR (School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting) data of the state’s 67 school districts, organized and formatted to allow users to search and compare multiple schools or districts over multiple years.
It includes data from 2,766 schools and excludes 596 schools that did not submit SESIR reports to the FDOH, according to the site.
All the information is based on the numbers that the districts report to the FDOE, and that reporting system was heavily criticized by a recent statewide grand jury memo.
The most recent data, from the 2019-2020 school year, shows Duval County Public Schools reported 1,474 fights, 532 physical attacks, 392 students using tobacco and 295 students who had or used drugs.
The county’s total number of incidents appears to have taken a steep dive going from 9.6 incidents per 100 students five years ago down to just 2.5 incidents per 100 students last year and even before last year was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic the downward trend was well underway.
But that’s all based on the numbers that DCPS reports and that reporting system was heavily criticized in a recent statewide grand jury report.
The grand jury found that the rules for reporting fights, assaults and other incidents give school districts too much leeway and discretion over what’s reported as a crime and what can be handled within the classroom.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson says a teacher might see an incident differently than a police officer would.
“That discretion needs to be left up to the police if they have police they’re working with and for them, simply because they have the training in the background to support their decisions. Whereas a teacher may misjudge or mischaracterize a crime,” Jefferson said.
The school district in Duval County has declined to comment on the December grand jury report because it was an interim report.
However, the chair of the school board said the district is taking the report seriously although it’s unclear what, if any, changes will be made to the reporting policy.