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Crime in Schools


Q. It seems as though the more we talk about safety in schools, and the more we spend on it, the more unsafe they become. What are the statistics about violent crime on school property, now vs. the past?


It's hard to get a handle on statistics, because there are some powerful disincentives for school officials to report crimes accurately. Unlike colleges and universities, which are required to report crimes under the Clery Act, K-12 schools do not have to report them, and there is no FBI Uniform Crime Reports service such as in the adult world.


The federal education legislation, No Child Left Behind, defines schools as "persistently dangerous" if they have six serious incidents per 100 students for two years in a row. Since no principal, central office or school board wants to be associated with that definition of failure to keep kids safe, an unknown number of schools deliberately under-report crimes so that they won't get the negative label.


Newspaper investigations have turned up as many as 1,000 threats, assaults, sex crimes, arson, weapons violations, and other crimes that individual school districts have failed to report to police in just one school year.


Usually, what happens is that school administrators deal with the crimes administratively and internally, using their own disciplinary methods such as suspensions and expulsions, instead of making a police report that would become public record.


That's ironic, since many parents value the safety of their children above and beyond their academic achievement, and school officials who cover up crime statistics are on the road to earning even worse PR and public mistrust than if they would be honest about the crimes going on in their schools.


Nevertheless, the number of assaults, robberies and sex offenses reported in some urban schools is definitely on the increase. In the biggest cities, there are sex offenses even on the elementary school level, and reports have nearly doubled in some locations over 10 years ago.


Educators say part of the reason is that staff members are receiving better training about reporting incidents, and there has been a push to report and track school crimes more accurately.


Union officials counter that there really is more violence in schools, though, and that it's not just a result of better reporting. In fact, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has frequently charged that school administrators were underreporting crime data to make themselves look better, rendering school-reported statistics as both "misleading and incomplete."


Federal law requires schools to report school crime data regularly, at the school building level, to give students time to transfer to another school they and their parents deem safer. In cities such as New York City, hundreds of students apply for such transfers, though not as many accept them eventually.



Homework: Here's an excellent article from a school security consultant on the underreporting of school crimes with many examples of newspaper investigations that have revealed the underreporting.


By Susan Darst Williams Controversies 10 2008


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