Fear and hopelessness growing among Duval students

Published on February 8, 2023 at 6:27 pm

Students in Duval Schools have reduced dangerous behaviors in many ways, but a new survey shows alarming increases in suicide risk, hopelessness, fighting and weapons.

On the positive side, the Duval County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released Wednesday, found that the percentage of high school students who had used alcohol in the previous month had declined — to 20.8% in 2021 from 35.6% a decade earlier. The percentage who were offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property declined to 27.9% from 33%.

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The survey also showed that a smaller percentage were sexually active — 22.9% compared with 36.7% in 2011.


  • 45.1% of high school students said they felt sad or hopeless for at least two straight weeks, up from 27.6% in 10 years.
  • 26.1% said they had seriously considered suicide, up from 14.9%.
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  • 22.3% said they had not gone to school in the previous month because they felt unsafe on the way there or the way home, an increase from 11%.
  • 18.9% had been in a physical fight on school property, up from 13.7%.
  • 14.5% had been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, up from 10.7%.

Among middle school students, 33.8% said they had seriously considered suicide, up from 20% in 2011. Twenty-three percent said they had been electronically bullied, up from 16.3%. But the percentage who had tried marijuana, currently smoked cigarettes, used alcohol before age 11 or had sex all declined.

“Today’s youth are making better decisions about their health. We have made great strides in improving the behaviors that put students most at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases,” Antonio Nichols, interim administrator/health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Duval County, said in a news release. “Still, there is more work to be done to create healthier environments for our children.”

The anonymous survey was administered by Duval County Public Schools in partnership with the Health Department and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey was given to 3,524 students from 21 high schools and 3,569 students from 27 middle schools.

The Health Department noted that the percentage of high school students who had been in a fight at school was significantly higher in Duval County than statewide — 18.9% compared with 6.1% for Florida.

Just over 8% of Duval students had carried a weapon on school property, far higher than Florida overall at 2.2%.

Duval Schools has given the survey every other year since 2009. The results are used to monitor and address issues related to adolescent and school health, the district says.

“We continually look for ways to innovatively use the survey data in partnering with local agencies to mitigate the high-risk behaviors of our youth,” said Heather Albritton, director of health and physical education. “While it is also crucial to continue the more fundamental uses of the survey data, we know that we must press forward to find new, broader ways to connect our students with programming, services and educational experiences that can help shape their habits into life-long beneficial, positive behaviors.”

author image Senior News Editor

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, where as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. 

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