The Duval County School District Board in Florida voted unanimously earlier this week to revise its Student Code of Conduct to include measures that will possibly increase the number of students who enter the Alternatives to Out-of-School Suspension (ATOSS) Centers.
The new code will also make penalties for fighting on school buses stiffer. Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the Code of Conduct Committee is encouraging the changes because of requests from school and transportation employees to assist them in reducing fights and disruptions. Vitti said it was time for accountability.
Duval transports over 50,000 students every day. Over the past school year, there were 558 fights on 636,120 bus trips, said Mark Sherwood, a spokesperson for the district.
The prior year had 655 fights on 636,480 bus trips, so there was some improvement in the 2015-2016 school year, but not enough.
The first fight on a bus resulted in the students involved serving as much as five days in-school suspension, along with 14 days of suspension from riding on the bus. The second fight resulted in six to 10 days of in-school suspension and permanent suspension from traveling on the bus, writes Denise Smith Amos for The Florida Times-Union.
Sherwood added that the approved conduct code revisions:
"â¦ recognize the significant risk of fighting on a bus while it is moving, therefore more severe discipline is under consideration,"
Now, a 30-day removal from the bus is enacted after the first fight and a second fight will result in a seven-day out-of-school suspension. The students involved will also be referred to the district's hearing office to face possible removal of bus-riding privileges for the rest of the time that they attend Duval District schools.
Three ATOSS centers will be available for the next school year, but School Board candidate John Turner asked if the district is tightening up on its rules only to increase the numbers of pupils who are sent to the centers to justify the existence of the ATOSS spaces.
"That sounds like the sheriff saying we have too many empty jail cells," he said.
Recently, the board questioned the validity of the ATOSS locations because they were under-utilized and were expensive to keep open.
Board Member Constance Hall and Vitti pointed out that the centers employ teachers and social workers who mentor, counsel, and assist students in keeping up with their school assignments. But even with the more stringent consequences, parents cannot be forced to send their kids to ATOSS centers. They can choose to keep their youngsters at home to serve their suspension.
WTLV-TV's Brittany Dionne reports that Vitti said the centers also offered socio-economical assistance to students and enabled them to have a learning environment where they can be supervised.
Two schools in the Duval County District — Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville and Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts — are located in Jacksonville. The Washington Post has selected Stanton College Prep as the eighth Most Challenging High School in America and Darnell-Cookman as the seventh most challenging.