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Revised Code Of Conduct Passed By Duval School Board Without Self-Defense Provision

Duval County Public Schools

An attempt to add a self-defense provision to the newly revised Duval Schools Code of Student Conduct was shot down Tuesday evening.

The Duval County School Board voted to approve the new code of conduct which focuses on a less punitive approach to discipline; but board members rejected a proposal by board member Jason Fischer to add a self-defense shield similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

Fischer said he worked with the school board attorney to draft the new language after reviewing the new code with board members last month.

The series of revisions to the code are the product of a nearly 70-member community task force, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Changes include establishing separate versions of the code of student conduct for elementary and secondary student, scaffolding consequences based on the nature of the infraction and its frequency, as a well as continuing a move away from out-of-school suspensions and other more punitive measures.

“Any research will indicate that an increase in outdoor suspension or indoor suspension does not lead to student achievement, in fact it’s the opposite,” Vitti said.

In particular, under the new code of conduct, consequences for school fights vary by the role of each student in the fight. Those who incite the fight face harsher penalties than those who only respond to it. But even those who respond still face some discipline, which in middle and high school can include one to three days of in-school suspension. By comparison, students who initiate or are mutual participants in a fight get a mandatory one day in-school suspension and could face up to five days.

But Tuesday, Fischer said that revisions fall short of protecting students who are only trying to defend themselves.

“I don’t think there should be consequences for being a victim,” Fischer said.

He proposed amending the code’s section on fighting to include the “use appropriate physical force necessary to stop the person from attacking you” in its description of self-defense.

The current version describes self-defense as “an action to block an attack by another person or to shield yourself from being hit by another person.” It also states that retaliating by hitting a person back does not merit self-defense. Fischer’s proposed amendment would remove that line.

“While it’s good to differentiate who was attacked and who is defending themselves, I don’t think that we should be punishing people for defending themselves,” Fischer said. “ I mean, we can’t suspend our way out of problems for people that initiate issues and we can’t suspend our way out of victims of issues.”

However, Vitti and other board members argued that defining “appropriate force” may create an issue of its own.

“I feel that the current recommendation allows school-based administrators to distinguish between clearly between responding to a fight and initiating a fight,” Vitti said. “I believe that this (amendment) may take it a step farther to where there’s no consequence to responding to an attack and I don’t believe we want to create an educational culture in some ways violence is justified at any level.”     

Fischer’s amendment also received pushback from Florida Southern Christian Leadership Conference President R.L. Gundy, who served on the code of conduct task force.

“Stand Your Ground already provides legalized murder and it violates the principles of non-violence and conflict resolution,” he told board members. “Leave Stand Your Ground out. Leave Stand Your Ground alone. It is not needed.”

Fischer has not used the term Stand Your Ground in describing his proposed amendment, but last month, he used language from the law when discussing the code revisions, prompting some board members to reference Stand Your Ground.

In the end, the school board voted down the amendment 6-1 with Fischer voting in its favor. But Fischer said this is not the last time he will raise the issue.

“I’m open to change,” he said. “If there’s somebody else that has a proposal that gets to the same end goal. I’m perfectly okay with it…but it doesn’t go far enough so that’s why I’m going to continue to fight for victims’ rights.”      

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.