Duval County has 10 times more parents being criminally prosecuted for their kids skipping school than other Florida school districts of a similar size.
It’s called truancy, and right now 168 Duval County parents are facing criminal charges.
Multiple studies show a link between truancy and juvenile crime.
“We want them back in school,” said Duval County School Board member Scott Shine.
Action News Jax compared open truancy cases in Duval County to four Florida school districts that the Department of Education said were most similar in size.
We collected the following statistics through public record requests from those counties’ State Attorney’s offices:
County Student population Open Truancy cases
Duval 129,479 168
Pinellas 102,905 18
Polk 102,295 18
Lee 92,686 0
Brevard 73,444 2
The statistics show that, in Duval County, the State Attorney’s Office is currently pursuing 168 truancy cases.
Compare that to the four Florida counties that are the most similar in size; they range from zero to 18.
Duval County aunt Ambri Brickey supports the county’s tough enforcement.
“I think it’s good because our kids need school these days. I really do think that. And if they’re not in school, then what’s wrong with the parents?” said Brickey.
But statistics show Duval County’s truancy rate is isn’t that high.
The district’s attendance rate, 96 percent, is above the state average of 94.5 percent.
“Well, I think, one, we’re a little more aggressive about pushing this issue and referring it to the State Attorney’s Office,” said Shine.
So, is the school district more aggressive about referring parents or is the local State Attorney’s Office more aggressive about prosecuting?
After weeks of unanswered interview requests to the State Attorney’s Office, Action News Jax reporter Jenna Bourne sat in the lobby waiting for someone who could answer our questions to come down.
Still, no interview.
Action News Jax asked Shine whether the district needs to make any changes to how it approaches truancy.
“Well, I’m not sure that we’ve really done the best that we can,” said Shine. “Now that we’ve had this discussion and you’ve brought this to light, this is something I’m going to want to look into more diligently and find out why we have these statistics.”
Numerous studies have documented the connection between truancy and crime.
The Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy calls truancy a “strong predictor of juvenile problems… including delinquency… gang involvement… and substance abuse.”
A U.S. Department of Justice report said high truancy rates are linked to high daytime crime rates.
So what’s being done about it?
Duval County Public Schools has its own Attendance Intervention Team, which has held more than 700 meetings this school year with truant students and their parents to figure out how to get those students in the classroom and off the streets.
When that doesn’t work, the district refers the family to the State Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution.
Florida law allows the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles to take away a truant student’s driver’s license.
Last year, the DMV suspended about 4,500 licenses for failing to attend school.
Thirteen of those were in Duval County.