March 19, 2007
“To portray that Madison is ‘safe’ when violent crime is growing is deceptive, and prevents us from getting to real solutions.”
How safe are our schools? This question can’t be answered without consistent collection and analysis of information about violent and disruptive incidents in our schools. While the Madison Police Department has just released its Uniform Crime Report for 2006 (the summary of crime statistics that is reported annually to the FBI), there’s no equivalent report for Madison schools. Our state’s Department of Public Instruction collects data for expulsions and suspension, but not for incidents. The Madison Metropolitan School District’s web site simply links to the DPI site. At the individual school level, there may be no system for proactively communicating with parents about incidents affecting safety, or, worse yet, a parent’s school safety questions may languish unanswered.
We can do better. The state of New York’s Safe Schools Against Violence in Education law requires schools to report all violent and disruptive incidents (although, as noted in the previous post, the schools’ degree of cooperation in disclosing the reports could use some improvement); San Antonio, Texas, provides online data on police calls for service, tracked by neighborhood, in addition to incident report and crime data; and the Chicago, Illinois GIS-based online Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting system allows online searches for incidents of crime within a specified radius of schools (public and parochial).
What we’ll have to live with, for now, is a patchwork from a variety of sources about incidents in schools that have been reported as having been reported to the police. I’ve collected a list of these below the fold, and will update this list periodically on this site. Those schools and police districts who are forthcoming with their reports are to be commended; they understand that facing up to the problem is the only way to begin work toward a real solution.
March 13, 2007
This week is national “Sunshine Week” (Sunshine Week web site; Sunshine Week blog), promoting open government and the public’s right to know. For last year’s Sunshine Week, the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle conducted a freedom of information audit to obtain copies of its school district’s reports of violent and disruptive incidents in school buildings. Even though this is a report that each school was required to prepare and file under New York state’s Safe Schools against Violence in Education (SAVE) law, many of the schools were less than cooperative in complying with open records requests for copies of the reports. The newspaper used the incident reports to publish a comprehensive report on safety in its district’s schools.
March 6, 2007
The disciplinary system in Philadelphia schools is not as effective as it should be and is in need of further improvement (Philadelphia Inquirer, “Report: District Losing Control,” March 2, 2007), according to an independent audit performed by Ellen Green-Ceisler, a former Philadelphia police department auditor who was hired by Philadelphia school district chief executive Paul Vallas to evaluate the school district’s discipline system. The report (well worth reading in full in its own right) identifies the following qualities of an effective school disciplinary system:
- [S]tandards and expectations regarding acceptable and unacceptable codes of conduct [are] clearly articulated and communicated […]
- [I]nvestigations into […] and reviews of allegations of misconduct [are] conducted in an unbiased, thorough, timely and professional manner […]
- [T]he penalties and consequences for disciplinary infractions [are] unambiguous, appropriate and rational to the particular situation […]
- [T]he disciplinary process occur[s] in a timely manner[….] [U]nnecessary and unreasonable delays in responding to and resolving disciplinary matters [are] identified and appropriately addressed […]
- [T]he personnel responsible for […] enforcing the disciplinary system [are] appropriately trained, skilled, and committed to ensuring full compliance with disciplinary policies and procedures […]
- [There is] consistency in the enforcement of disciplinary policies and procedures and the imposition of penalties […]
- [T]he disciplinary system [is] transparent […] [A]dequate records and data [are] maintained that clearly identify the nature of the disciplinary occurrence and the District’s responses [….] [and which are] easily accessible […]
- [There is] accountability throughout the disciplinary system […] [S]pecifically, [there is] a system which effectively identifies and responds to situations where rules, policies and procedures are not followed or system breakdowns are occurring […]
If an independent audit of our schoool district’s disciplinary system were performed today, how would it measure up?
March 5, 2007
In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County schools, incidents of students attacking teachers have increased even while school population has decreased. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (“Students’ Assaults on Teachers Hit High in 2006,” March 5, 2007; via EdNews.org), reports:
Juvenile probation records show the number of teachers assaulted by students in Allegheny County schools is steadily rising. [….]
Many assaults don’t even get reported because teachers refuse to press charges. [….]
Nancy Addy, a drama teacher at Langley High School, said she and her colleagues have seen a growing number of youngsters who lack civility and seem to be more rude and abusive than ever. [….]
School principals sometimes discourage teachers from filing charges or downplay confrontations with teachers and students so their schools won’t be seen as unsafe, said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, a staff representative with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. [….]
Part of the problem with trying to punish some youthful offenders is they view probation and jail time as a status symbol. [….]
[Probation office Jason Newhouse:] “…kids tend to show me more respect because I can send them back to court. Teachers can’t sanction them like I can. Kids take advantage of that and it makes things more difficult for teachers.”
The article also reports that the teachers’ union has reached agreement with the school district for the creation of a new alternative school for persistently disruptive students.