Duval Superintendent Chris Bernier talks to reporters after his official swearing-in on July 2, 2024. | Megan Mallicoat, Jacksonville Today

Duval School Board delays vote on student safety policy 

Published on July 2, 2024 at 10:52 pm

The Duval County School Board voted Tuesday to postpone a vote on proposed changes to its policy regarding student safety. 

Before finishing her tenure as interim superintendent last week, Dana Kriznar laid out the proposed student safety plan, capping off a tumultuous year in the district that saw the sentencing of one Douglas Anderson School of the Arts teacher to prison, the arrest of a second and the removal of three others over alleged inappropriate behavior, mostly toward students. 

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After the swearing-in Tuesday of new Superintendent Christopher Bernier, the board also voted to approve $1.45 million to settle three lawsuits brought by former Douglas Anderson students over the handling of alleged teacher misconduct at the esteemed arts magnet school.

Rita Mairs, an attorney with the city of Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel who has been working with the district on its response to the Douglas Anderson cases, said the policy presented for a vote Tuesday does not go far enough. 

The changes include requiring employees be removed from student contact after arrests or upon allegations of offenses including sexual misconduct, violence or selling drugs; requiring all staff to report allegations and evidence of misconduct or face discipline; and maintaining a database of employee disciplinary actions.  

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“Those changes are not sufficient in and of themselves,” Mairs said.

After Kriznar’s suggested policy was announced last Thursday, the district’s legal advisors decided it would be better to change the way policies are written and structured.

“I don’t want to criticize the initial changes that were made,” Mairs said. “They were good changes.”

But, she said, the student safety policy in question was originally drafted in 1997 and was amended several times since then.

“There’s some patchworking that’s been done over the years,” Mairs said.

She asked the board to either vote against the changes as written or delay the vote. Several members were hesitant to vote no, though, because of how that would look to the public.

“I have a hard time voting this down for a lot of reasons,” board member Kelly Coker said.

Mairs told the board that Kriznar’s proposed changes are in effect now, so delaying the vote would not put students at risk.

“It’s in place now,” Mairs said. “This is just another level of holding everyone accountable by codifying it.”

After receiving assurances from Mairs that the final student safety policy will be ready for review at their September meeting  — and that the policy updates will be in place already when school starts in August  — the board voted unanimously to postpone the vote until September. 

“The plan is a starting point,” board member Cindy Pearson said. “Please recognize it as a starting point for our entire district.”

author image Reporter email Megan Mallicoat is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on education. Her professional experience includes teaching at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, as well as editing, communications management, web design, and graphic design. She has a doctorate in mass communication with an emphasis in social psychology from UF. In her "free time," you'll most likely find her on the sidelines of some kind of kids’ sports practice, holding a book.

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