ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Both the current and outgoing superintendents with the Orange County Public Schools district sat down with Florida Department of Education officials over concerns from a grand jury that the district may have underreported incidents of criminal activity to the state.
Wednesday’s meeting was closed to the public. A spokesperson for the district declined to share any additional information. News 6 also reached out directly to FDOE and the executive director of the state’s Office of School Safety to see if action, if any, will be taken. No one responded to our requests.
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A letter sent by the executive director to Dr. Barbara Jenkins and Dr. Maria Vazquez, dated Aug. 29, states school officials “violated - and continue to violate - state law by systemically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Florida Department of Education.”
The letter follows the release of a grand jury report outlining school safety concerns at several districts in Florida. Three pages of that report include comments on Orange County and single out schools in Apopka. The report claims the school system suppressed reporting of serious incidents and actively hampered police investigations.
Multiple incidents are referenced in the report, which states the situation got so bad in 2016 that Apopka’s police chief wrote a letter to the school board documenting that teachers and administrators received multiple complaints of sex crimes but failed to report incidents to law enforcement.
The report also notes cases of students attacking resource officers but being allowed to remain in school. It alleges that in 2019, one of those students was later involved in a shooting off campus.
News 6 reached out the Apopka Police Department, which shared the following statement from Chief Mike McKinley:
“Over the past several years, the Apopka Police Department has been working with Orange County Public Schools to ensure that both parties understand what should be reported to law enforcement. Through this partnership, we have been assured that the crimes occurring on school campuses are being reported to our SROs to be investigated. The Apopka Police Department and Orange County Public Schools are committed to ensuring our students are safe and if a crime is committed on one of our campuses it will be reported.”
News 6 also received a statement from Melissa Byrd, the vice chair of the school board. Byrd represents the district that includes schools in Apopka.
“It was disappointing to see our Apopka schools mentioned in the Grand Jury report because we have worked tirelessly, over the last several years, with our law enforcement partners to ensure our schools are as safe as possible. I speak to Apopka police Chief McKinley frequently and he has ensured me numerous times that our schools are reporting serious incidents to SROs immediately. I campaigned on this issue in 2018 so ensuring students and staff have safe environments in school has always been a priority for me. I am confident that we have policies and practices currently in place and have trained administrators in the proper way to correctly handle any and all criminal activity that happens on any of our campuses,” Byrd wrote.
According to the report, the grand jury did not find evidence of “widespread, overt fraud,” but did see testimony and evidence it called “problematic.”
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