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School violence on the rise

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 01:19 PM

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BROOKSVILLE Incidents of school violence increased again last school year along with the number of times students were then turned over to law enforcement.

According to 2010-11 school year data submitted to the State Department of Education, overall reported school violence increased by 160 incidents, or 19.4 percent, from 826 incidents reported the previous year to 986 the following school year.

Officials also reported, 539, or 54 percent, of those cases to law enforcement.

Since the 2008-09 school year, school violence incidents have increased by 22.8 percent when 803 incidents were reported. Of those cases, 389, or 48 percent, were reported to law enforcement.

But Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said some of those increases aren't necessarily a bad thing.

"My belief is that sometimes when you see these numbers go up, it shows that administrators and teachers are being more proactive in finding and reporting them," Blavatt said. "This shows we're staying on top of it."

According to the data, incidents of fighting, battery and sexual battery fell from the previous year in the district while instances of drug use, bullying and harassment, and sexual offenses increased.

Sexual "offenses" can include students exposing genitals, students making lewd sexual gestures, soliciting for sex acts or two students caught engaging in intercourse.

The category of "other major offenses" also increased from one, reported the previous year, to 60 in 2010-11 and is defined as, "Any serious, harmful incident resulting in the need for law enforcement intervention."

Those types of offense include gambling, possession of drug paraphernalia or possessing pornographic material of those under age.

But Blavatt also cautioned that a new high school — Weeki Wachee High — was added that year and said some of the statistics could be flawed due to administrators incorrectly coding incidents.

Administrators made similar claims last year, particularly concerning Fox Chapel Middle School, which was shown to have 13 sexual batteries during the 2008-09 school year. Administrators later determined those should have been deemed as harassment incidents.

Blavatt said he has similar doubts this year with the school, which recorded 154 incidents overall — the largest number of any of the schools.

That includes 47 batteries, 23 bullying cases, 20 instances of students threatening or intimidating other students.

"There are some areas we still need to take a look at," Blavatt said. "But I think the true test is asking the parents and students. In all of our surveys we've found that students and parents view our schools as safe. They are, and I think our staff has done an excellent job tackling issues and addressing these problems." (352) 544-5271

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