During the last school year, Duval County investigators found four public school employees had inappropriate relations with students.
WJCT investigated and found out how the county helps students after situations like these.
In the front lobby of the Duval Schools administration building, parents are getting ready for a new school year. They’ll be leaving their children and trust in the hands of teachers for about six hours a day, five days a week.
This past school year some teachers violated that trust. Three Westside High employees allegedly had sex with students, and one Thomas Jefferson Elementary School teacher was charged with molesting a third-grader.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says the allegations deeply trouble him, but the focus shouldn’t be on the school district’s reputation.
Vitti said, “The focus needs to be on the individual, the perpetrator.”
He says DCPS did everything right in recent cases, starting with background checks that ask for more information than what’s required by law.
“They are required to report any investigation that was linked to child abuse, even if it was unfounded,” he said.
All of the four recent alleged offenders passed those background checks.
Then, Vitti says as soon as the school board was notified of an allegation, the investigation team began to work quickly, that day.
“If there's any remote evidence that it is possible, plausible that the allegation is true, then we remove the individual from the learning environment,” Vitti said.
The accused employee is sent to a warehouse on the Northside to work on different tasks and wait. Meanwhile, a series of investigations are taking place.
”You have the investigation that takes place at the district level, on the more employee side,” he said, “and you have the criminal investigation, and then you have the investigation done by DCF.”
And if the allegations are substantiated by the district, the employee is fired. But then there’s the child.
Angela Mann is a UNF professor and a licensed psychologist. She says she’s worked with children and adolescents who were abused by adults. She says that children respond differently depending on their age.
Mann said, “[Young children] tend to be very distracted. They might be more irritable. They can often start engaging in more impulsive or hyperactive behaviors.”
She said, “[Teenager’s brains are] still developing. Their ability to plan for even short or long-term outcomes related to the kinds of relationships and most importantly their ability to recognize the power differential and the boundaries that should be in place in these types of relationships is really still developing.”
But in both cases she says kids can learn to see a trusted adult’s behavior as normal, even when the law says it’s not. So, she says the children are given counseling.
Florida Department of Children and Families spokesman John Harrell says DCF typically starts the treatment plan.
“We're connecting them with the experts. We're connecting them with those therapists and those counselors,” Harrell said. “They've got the clinical means to assess each child, and see from that point what can be done.”
He says they leave the rest to the experts and sometimes a partner-agency will step in to provide long-term care for the child.
Mann says inappropriate relationships between teachers and teens are sometimes taken too lightly.
“Where are those boundaries? Is it appropriate to text with your teacher?” Mann asked. “Those are the kinds of conversations that I wish we were having more on the front end, rather than after the fact.”
But Superintendent Vitti says teachers know the rules, and know they’re required to report inappropriate relationships.
“We have gone above and beyond to make sure that everyone understands the Code of Ethics, professionalism,” Vitti said. “There is no training on common sense. There is no training on morality.”
The investigation at Westside High School is ongoing to determine if anyone else knew of the three student-teacher relationships.