Duval County’s interim Superintendent Patricia Willis Tuesday night refuted recent news reports which said six rapes were reported in Duval schools this year.

 

Speaking to the School Board, Willis said the numbers in recently published federal crime statistics were misunderstood and do not reflect the number of rape incidents in Duval schools this year. They reflect incidents reported, investigated and filed this year but which may have occurred earlier than this year.

“These incidents occurred over three years,” Willis said. “These were not six incidents which occurred since the start of school.”

The federal statistics list six rapes in Duval County schools between Jan. 1 and June 31, 2017. For all of last year, the report listed eight rapes, all of which were reported within the first six months.

Willis did not address the 2016 rape incidents. She described only the six reported for 2017.

One of those rape reports refers to an incident that occurred in 2014, she said, and another refers to an event in 2016. The other four were reported and investigated in 2017 in February and March, she said.

Out of the six, one resulted in a student being arrested, she said, providing no details of that arrest or case.

In two of the cases, the reports of rape could not be confirmed, she said, and in two cases the county prosecutor declined to prosecute.

In one other case, the victim refused to cooperate with the prosecution, Willis added.

Willis said she wants to correct misperceptions about the rape numbers and school safety.

“We are not taking this lightly,” she said. “Any report of a rape is too many.”

School district Police Chief Micheal Edwards attended the meeting but directed questions about the rape numbers to district spokeswoman Laureen Ricks.

Ricks said that in all six cases, the alleged incidents were reported to have occurred on school property and that the dates reported for federal crime statistics reflect when the investigations of the incidents were completed, not necessarily when they occurred.

Edwards has said recently that schol police do not investigate rape complaints; they take reports of rape to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which has more expertise.

Willis on Tuesday also shed more light on recent trends and racial disparities in district discipline data.

She said that although student infractions for the two least serious categories of offenses have declined since last year, there were increases in the two most serious categories, Class 3 and Class 4 infractions.

Class 3 usually refers to alcohol or drug abuse, harassment, dating violence or similar serious offenses, she said. Class 4 refers to “zero tolerance” infractions including weapon possession, rape, armed robbery and arson.

Willis said Class 3 offenses grew by 180 incidents over last year, to 1,126 offenses, and Class 4 offenses were up by five, for a total of 15 cases so far this year.

She acknowledged that black students receive many more out-of-school suspensions than their white peers.

An analysis of the district data showed that the 1,766 African-American female students suspended out of school last year was more than seven times the number of white females suspended out of school: 251. And the 3,130 African-American male students suspended out of school was almost five times the number of white male students suspended out of school: 656.

“There were obvious disparities among some subgroups (of students), so we saw the need for more culturally responsive training,” Willis said, referring to training educators receive about diverse cultures and social interactions.

She said principals are undergoing “cultural competence” training this week and that teachers will be trained for “culturally responsive” teaching later.

To help curb student misbehavior, Willis said, the district is expanding its Student Options for Success after-school program, which will begin Saturday sessions next month. This free social skills education program features parents and students discussing everything from anger management and conflict resolution to effective communication and empathy.

Willis said she also is trying to expand the presence of full-time therapists in some schools and adding more wrap-around social services to some schools.

Denise Smith Amos: (904) 359-4083