MCPS releases updated data on mental health and discipline

File photo: Eric Cummings, speaks during the Marion County School Board workshop in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

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Posted February 17, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

Behavior specialists from Marion County Public Schools studied trends in mental health and discipline over the past year and have identified primary concerns with student drug use and fighting.

In comparison to the previous school year, the rate of expulsions has been much higher this school year. As of Feb. 2, about 80 students had committed offenses that resulted in expulsion, while the previous year’s rate was about 120 for the entire school year.

There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, and it’s not solely due to more students being expelled, said Danielle Livengood, director of secondary education.

“We had a change with our consequences for drugs,” Livengood said. “How the code of conduct read last year was that if it was your first offense, you could come to drug diversion in lieu of being alternatively placed.”

Livengood said this policy was removed because many students did not have available transportation to get to a diversion program. Now, without a diversion program, more students, particularly for drug offenses, are put in alternative placement schools.

“The work that we’re doing right now with the (Marion County) Hospital District (is) to create our own diversion program,” she said. “We do recognize that we had more students this year within alternative placements because of drug offenses.”

The discipline data from the first semester of this school year, from August to December 2022, divides the offenses into three sections: fights and physical altercations, drug offenses and “other.”

About 250 incidents were reported that resulted in alternative placements. Fights and physical violence made up 18% of these, drug offenses made up 40% and all other offenses made up 42%

In comparison to the previous year, there were more than 500 offenses that resulted in alternative placements, the majority of which were for other offenses, with fewer incidents related to drugs, fighting and violence.

The issues that students are facing in schools also reflects the juvenile misdemeanor and felony rates outside of school and in the community at large, said Livengood.

The district also conducts threat assessments to survey any students with mental health issues who could potentially cause harm or pose a threat to students, staff and schools. The data compiled through threat assessments showed the majority of incidents were transient, or found to have posed little or no threat to schools once investigated, said Amanda Steckman, coordinator of mental health.

At a low level, about 25 serious substantive threats took place so far this school year.

Courtesy of Marion County Public Schools

“Serious substantive level threats are indicated in orange. Those types of threats are substantiated, meaning that there was lasting intent, but the threats are associated with hands, fists and feet, so they’re more threats of fights to cause harm in that way,” Steckman said.

Very serious substantive threats took place at a similar level.

“The gray boxes indicate it’s a very serious substantive level threat,” Steckman said. “Those are higher level threats that include weapons, the use of weapons, or rape or any other significant harm that would be caused to the target.”

To counteract mental health issues, Steckman said the district implements behavior prevention planning so schools can establish a concrete protocol to address discipline needs and prevention efforts to improve future behavioral data.


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