INVESTIGATES: Aggressive behavior in local schools skyrockets ‘into a pretty dangerous situation’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — We now know how much the pandemic impacted school-aged children and their behavior at school. An Action News Jax investigation found aggressive behavior has spiked compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

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Fighting, bullying and physical attacks are on the rise in most cases. It’s a trend that’s changed the way some parents feel about their kids’ safety in the classroom.

”It’s turning into a pretty dangerous situation,” said Travis Lauchman, whose son, Carter, lost vision in his eye after a bully threw a stick at him.

After two weeks in the same classroom this past year, Travis pulled him out along with his three other children, choosing instead to homeschool. He felt his kids were not safe because of the aggressive behavior of other students.

Carter attended W.D. Hartley Elementary School in St. Johns County. Bullying incidents reported to the state increased districtwide, from 39 the year before the pandemic (2018-19 school year) to 66 this past year.

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The St. Johns County senior director for school services, Paul Abbatinozzi, said some of it has to do with population growth and data changes — but not all of it.

”It’s something we need to make sure we’re looking into, ... whether it’s vaping, inappropriate conduct, physical aggression — and making sure our schools are aware of this,” he said.

Action News Jax pulled the state data and found aggressive behavior among students has almost doubled pre-pandemic numbers. It’s a trend shared by all our local school districts.

The state tracks serious breaches of the code of conduct in a system called the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting, or SESIR. The categories include anything from disruptions on campus all the way to homicide. 

We pulled the numbers from the 2018-19 school year as a baseline since it was the last year untouched by the pandemic. We then compared it to this past 2021-22 school year when kids were fully back in the classroom.

Here is the breakdown by districts in our area:

DISTRICT2018/ 20192021/ 2022
CLAY8232,082
DUVAL5,3438,604
ST. JOHNS7261,473

Abbatinozzi said the way to deal with this behavior in the classroom is through changes in professional development.

“We need to make sure our classroom management component is something we’re building,” he said. Beyond immediate safety concerns, the uptick in aggressive behavior has a trickle-down effect.

Studies show behavioral problems lead to lower test scores, and exposure to it creates a “monkey see, monkey do” effect that influences more students to act the same way.

Last week, the Florida Association of School Resource Officers met to talk about school safety.

The discussions included the following:

  • Establishment of new requirements under House Bill 1421, including the requirement that each school district annually certifies that no fewer than 80% of school personnel in elementary, middle and high schools have received required youth mental health awareness and assistance training.
  • A reaffirmed commitment for law enforcement officers to be physically present and directly involved in active assailant emergency drills.
  • New features for the school security risk assessment, which helps schools enhance additional security measures.
  • Best practices for family reunification plans to quickly unite parents and students following school emergencies.

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