Violent incidents in 10 New York City public schools were audited by the state comptroller, and the final report found that many violent episodes were unreported or classified as less serious, leading to inaccurate school safety ratings.
The study examined data from two schools in each borough during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years and found that as many as a third of incidents went completely unreported.
New York State’s Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (also known as SAVE) requires public school districts to collect information on violent occurrences on school property, report these to the State Education Department, and then develop safety plans appropriate for the individual school and the recurring problems it faces.
The comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, was quoted by Kate Taylor in the NY Times as saying the misinformation had serious consequences:
When incidents don’t get reported or are in effect downgraded, schoolchildren are put potentially in harm’s way. The Department of Education can’t risk leaving parents uninformed about what’s going on in their child’s school.
More than 400 violent incidents went unreported, including 50 assaults resulting in injuries, 13 sex offenses, and two instances of confiscated weapons. Others were categorized incorrectly, giving the impression that they were less serious than they actually were. Many schools did not have a system for preventing unauthorized student departures.
These reports are used to designate certain schools as “persistently dangerous” or “potentially persistently dangerous,” which then requires them to take steps to reduce student violence and notify parents that they can enroll their children somewhere else if they wish. Therefore, the rating system may not be correct, and schools may not be doing what they should to prevent further incidents that may harm students.
The city’s Education Department replied to the report, saying that the cited incidents were not required to be reported to the state under the guidelines and that these sort of judgment calls are subjective. However, the audit report stated that they only counted incidents that fell squarely into one of the categories that mandate a report.
The report recommended several actions based on the results. Schools should ensure that all SAVE-reportable incidents are reported through the proper channels, are described and categorized correctly, and lead to accurate safety ratings and appropriate safety plans.
Additionally, unauthorized student departures were treated with carelessness, which needs to be remedied. Ideally, the students’ exit would be prevented (for example, with security personnel monitoring the doors, which can’t be locked for fire safety reasons) or immediately detected, and actions would be taken according to a prepared response plan if students do manage to exit the school building.