Orange Public Schools to meet with state over school safety concerns

Grand jury report accuses OCPS of underreporting safety incidents

Orange County Public Schools administration building in Orlando.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The superintendent for Orange County Public Schools is expected to meet next week with Florida Department of Education officials over concerns from a statewide grand jury that the district may have underreported incidents to the state.

The director of the Office of Safe Schools sent a letter to Superintendent Dr. Maria Vazquez and outgoing superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins.

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The letter said the concerns stem from a grand jury report of school safety policies and reporting throughout Florida which found numerous concerns in several school districts. This report was the impetus for Gov. Ron DeSantis to suspend four Broward County School Board members last month.

Orange County Public Schools provided a copy of the letter to News 6 but would not comment on the allegations.

According to the report, the grand jury did not find evidence of “widespread, overt fraud,” but did see testimony and evidence it called “problematic,” which led it to question whether the district was properly reporting school safety data to the state.

The report lists numerous incidents regarding schools in Apopka over the years. It said in 2016 the Apopka police chief sent a public letter to the school board regarding complaints of two sex crimes on campuses that were not reported to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families. They had to learn about the complaints from citizen reports.

The grand jury said in 2019 an elementary student who was not supposed to be left unsupervised, was able to take a disabled female child into a bathroom and molest her. The school administration reportedly conducted its own investigation rather than notify police immediately, which compromised the police investigation.

The report also said there were several incidents in 2018-2019 where students physically attacked school resource officers or fought Apopka police officers, and the students were allowed to remain in school despite requests to have them removed.

In another incident in 2019, according to the grand jury report, a student took video of another student in a bathroom and sent the video to other students. The report accuses the school’s administration of refusing to permit the victim to contact the school resource officer to make a complaint and even told the guardians of the suspect to destroy the video.

“We are informed that this type of incident is not uncommon and that police are often confronted with recalcitrant or outright hostile Apopka administrators who believe that “they know better,” the report said.

The report also notes that law enforcement is being told they have to request a subpoena for evidence through the Orange County School Board general counsel’s office if they want video of reported cases.

No word on when the meeting next week will happen.

You can read the grand jury report and the letter from the Florida Department of Education below.

About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.