We cringe when the crime rates soar in our city and rejoice when it plummets. Published statistics help us monitor what is going on in our neighborhoods, giving us a means to predict the future. Every day families scour the internet, researching the statistics of an area before moving there. They dictate a city’s reputation. The fact is, these numbers can guide our lives, as well as the survival rate of the local politicians.
But what if these figures were manipulated to create a favorable impression?
Some cities have divisions of their law enforcement agencies dedicated to providing police services for their school districts. Their primary statistic would be the school crime rate, which would be a key indicator of a city’s safety factor.
In Jacksonville, Florida, the mission statement of the Duval County School Police Department is to “provide support to the District by ensuring a safe and secure environment in our schools so that teachers can teach, and students can learn and be inspired and prepared for success in college or a career, and life.”
First Coast News recently investigated their practices in an effort to determine the means this police department would go to in order to accomplish these goals. Upon interviewing former lieutenant, Benny Reagor, of the Duval County School Board Police Department, reporter Clark Fouraker uncovered a rash of children being detained at mental health facilities in Duval county through the Baker Act.
Reagor said, “In lieu of physically arresting them for the felony, we would Baker Act the child as opposed to an arrest.”
The current Duval School Superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti, had been the Assistant Superintendent of the Education Transformation Office of Miami-Dade County, controlling a large region of twenty-six schools. During his reign, police were Baker Acting more than three children a day.
It’s interesting to note that, while Dr. Vitti was in Miami, the Office of the Inspector General’s issued a report in August 2013, detailing a test cheating scandal at the Miami Norland Senior High school, within Dr. Vitti’s area. As a result of the falsified exam results, nearly $250,000 in bonuses for purported high grades were paid out to the faculty.  In addition, a number of key administrators, Dr. Vitti included, were promoted to higher positions.
Upon further investigation of the area, the Florida Department of Education revealed that this particular high school had ninety-six test invalidations over the past three years, as did many other schools within the Education Transformation Office.
Whether cheating test results or Baker Acting young children, it seems that Dr. Vitti’s primary concern is how his school district appears to others, rather than the health and education of his students.
Statistics are a useful research tool to uncover performance for individuals, schools, cities, and politicians. We all rely on them. However, they are only valuable if they are accurate and honestly reported. When school officials resort to institutionalizing their students through the Baker Act to twist the numbers, we all lose. Most of all, the victimized children.