Security and Crime News
No Child Left Behind not working to combat school violence
By GIL KLEIN
WASHINGTON - April 14, 2005 - Two boys wounded in the shooting rampage at Red Lake High School in Minnesota last month were the first to reenter the school when it reopened Monday. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, they didn't have to go back. Any child who is a victim of a violent crime in school can choose another school, the law says.
Red Lake student Misty Roy, 15, summed why many wanted to return, telling the Associated Press, "This is where I went to school. I know everybody here. I just want to stay here."
Two provisions in the 2002 law were designed to protect students from school violence.
One gave students who are victims of assaults the opportunity to transfer to another school. The other required states to set standards for "persistently dangerous" schools, publish the names of those schools, and allow students attending them to transfer.
Neither provision is working, education analysts say.
In the entire nation, only three states reported any "persistently dangerous" schools. In the most recent report last December, Pennsylvania had 14, New Jersey 10, and South Dakota two.
Major urban school districts such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami reported none.
"No school administrator wants to be slapped with the scarlet letter of having a 'persistently dangerous school,'" said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm. "Even the best school administrator is going to think twice before reporting school crimes."
The states set the threshold high. To be labeled persistently dangerous, the crimes at the school not only have to be severe but also widespread and repeated year after year.
"This is the one part of the No Child Left Behind Law where the states pretty much were left to determine their own policies," said Jennifer Dounay, policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States.
In Florida, for example, a school can be labeled persistently dangerous only if each year for three years it had a gun violation on campus and it expelled more than 1 percent of its students for homicide, battery, sexual battery and weapons possession.
And even if those criteria are met, the school must do an anonymous survey of students. Only if 51 percent or more say the school is unsafe will it be declared persistently dangerous.
Most states have similar laws that require multiple years of gun violations and expulsions for serious crimes.
"The definitions are so high that most schools could not reach the criteria even if they wanted to be labeled persistently dangerous," Trump said.
The Education Department says most states came up with the standards in good conscience.
"It's not that this was done deliberately to get around the law," said William Modzeleski, deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. "The schools had to look at the data that they had."
The only common data available for all school districts are expulsions and firearms violations, he said.
Many of the homicides happen at schools that never would make a persistently dangerous list, he said. The point of the law, he said, was to identify schools with a level of crime and violence that hinders learning.
One school system that's taking an aggressive approach is Philadelphia. Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, has set tough standards and punishes principals only if they don't report violent incidents and crimes.
"We don't shy away from it," Vallas said. "If you have a large urban school district and you say you don't have any persistently dangerous schools, you're deluding yourself. The more you conceal, the most suspicious the public becomes."
Philadelphia has reported the most persistently dangerous schools in the country - 12 out of 246. Vallas said the district defines violent incidents to include verbal threats as well as physical attacks. Crimes committed by students off campus are included in their school's report.
"If you are caught with a weapon on a Saturday," he said, "it is very likely you will be processed for expulsion (to a special disciplinary school) the next week."
Few students in Philadelphia leave the persistently dangerous schools.
At Red Lake High, where 16-year-old student Jeff Weise killed five other students, a teacher and a security guard before shooting himself March 21, nearly half the 300 students didn't show up for the first full day back at school Tuesday. How many transferred remains to be determined.
The federal government keeps no statistics on how many eligible students transfer. The Education Department's Modzeleski says his informal survey found few student crime victims want to leave.
"If you're 14 years old, are you going to transfer to another school where you don't know anybody?" he said. "You have your group of kids you pal around with and those are the kids you want to go to school with."
© J. R. Roberts, Security Strategies