Crime in Schools
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
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.
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.