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Lenny Curry, Nikolai Vitti may collaborate against youth gun violence

February started off with a worrying story for parents and guardians of children in Duval County Public Schools.

As News 4 Jax reports, students with guns were found at three Jacksonville schools on Wednesday.

One of those schools: an elementary school.

DCPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told “THE Local Station” that parents need to be more involved, and that “it will take a team effort from administration, staff, police and parents to keep guns out of schools” (quote from reporter, not Vitti).

It looks like the “team” may be bigger than that, however.

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FloridaPolitics.com learned on Thursday night and Friday morning that the offices of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti are in the early stages of collaboration against youth violence.

Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver, came to the mayor’s office from Vitti’s office. And Oliver has been central in the preliminary stages of this effort.

“I have been meeting with my successor [at DCPS] and the district’s Chief of Staff to discuss how we can collaborate on a citywide campaign to minimize youth violence. We are in the development stages and have not determined any plans. The superintendent has expressed enthusiasm about partnering with the mayor, sheriff and state attorney to address the reported incidents of gang violence. The two are meeting next week,” Oliver told us Friday.

Vitti likewise confirmed that staff members are meeting, and that he is getting together with the mayor to discuss strategies to engage youth.

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The New Year has started off with a number of high-profile public safety challenges for the mayor in Downtown Jacksonville involving juveniles and guns.

The shooting at January’s ArtWalk — which saw two minors shot — was followed up by two more teens shot near the Jacksonville Landing on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

One of those teens shot at the Jacksonville Landing died.

As these incidents indicate, a public safety crisis in the making is driven by teens with guns, and the mayor has an interest in quelling that.

A potential strategy for the mayor could involve going to public schools, as well as churches and community events, and telling young people that they should help by identifying who has guns and other potentially lethal weapons, especially in schools but also churches and community events.

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Time would seem to be of the essence in this rollout for both Vitti and Curry, as soon enough the inevitable violence of spring and summer will wreak its havoc on Jacksonville streets.

For Vitti, who came close to being voted out by the school board last year amidst a mysterious acrimony with the then-current chair of the school board, every incident involving weapons erodes his credibility as superintendent.

For Curry, who ran on a platform of public safety and crime abatement, there is likewise no time like the present to address these issues — the convergence of shaky neighborhoods, shaky home lives, and undirected kids having easier access to guns and munitions than to meaningful supervision and direction.

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Rumbles around city hall — the kind that no one will commit to the record — hold that Curry reached out to Vitti wanting to speak to kids last month, in the wake of the violence.

However, goes the narrative, Curry was waved off, with Vitti saying DCPS didn’t want to “alarm parents.”

Oliver and Vitti robustly deny that accounting of events.

“I’d never deny the mayor a chance to talk to kids in our schools,” Vitti told FloridaPolitics.com

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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