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Duval Students Say Out-Of-School Suspension Is A Vacation

Lindsey Kilbride

The Duval County School Board is expected to approve an updated student Code of Conduct Monday evening.

The new policy is likely to result in fewer school suspensions, sending students instead to alternative to out of school suspension centers.

WJCT wanted to know from Duval students. Which punishment is more effective?

At Jacksonville’s Kona Skate Park Monday, Terry Parker High sophomore Malik Sanders and his friends were escaping the heat, playing the board game Sorry. Sanders, still wearing his red helmet, said this is where he hangs out.

“We come up here to have a great time,” he said.

He said, while he doesn’t fit the troublemaker skater stereotype, if he hypothetically were to get in trouble he thinks ATOSS is the more effective punishment.

“ATOSS is the worst because you know it’s boring there and all you have to do is sit there, get on the computer,” he said “You can’t move or talk so you know, that’s bad.”

He added in-school suspension is also not where he would want to be.

“You sit in a room with an administrator,” he said. “Just think about how terrifying that is.”

Two years ago, the district switched to methods of punishment that focused on keeping students in school. Students were given in-school suspension, mediated group discussions and behavioral contracts instead of being asked to stay home.

The district has faced criticism that the punishments were too lax, so last year the code got stricter and this fall, it’s expected more students will be referred to ATOSS centers instead of staying home.

Getting into a fight for the first time would send a student to ATOSS for a week. Last year students were suspended for 10 days. Other offenses would get the same tweak.

Sanders and his friends agreed, staying home from school is a vacation.

“For me I’d rather go home but you know, that’s not really a punishment,” Sanders said.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has blamed out-of-school suspensions for contributing to truancy and making kids farther behind in their work.

“Our goal is to hold them accountable,” he said. “More importantly it’s so that they learn their lesson and they learn how to not make the same mistake again. We keep them engaged in the learning, education environment, because ultimately that’s what we’re paid to do as educators.”

Over the last few years, ATOSS hasn’t been utilized much by Duval Schools, so the city cut much of its funding. Now the district will be operating with fewer sites.

The district will also be handing outstricter punishments for school bus fights.

The board will vote on the updated Code of Conduct  after a public hearing at the 5 p.m  meeting at the school’s administration building.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.