School Climate & Safety

Audit Faults Calif. Districts on Unsafe-Schools Data

By Erik W. Robelen — April 05, 2005 3 min read
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A federal audit has uncovered shortcomings in how several California school districts have carried out the No Child Left Behind Act’s policy on educational choice for students in unsafe schools. The problems include a failure to report all violent incidents and inconsistent methods of evaluating certain incidents.

The March 24 report was the first of five state audits on the provision expected from the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general. Other states under review are Georgia, Iowa, New Jersey, and Texas.

Like most states, California has so far identified no schools as “persistently dangerous” under the 3-year-old federal law, causing some analysts and lawmakers to suggest that states generally have not implemented the provision in good faith.

“California Department of Education’s Compliance With the Unsafe School Choice Option Provision” is available from the U.S. Department of Education. ()

Even so, the report had no criticism for California’s definition of persistently dangerous, or other aspects of the state’s implementation. Instead, the critiques were reserved for the four California districts reviewed in the audit.

The report came the same week that school violence claimed the nation’s attention with the shootings at a high school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. (“School Shootings Stun Reservation,” March 30, 2005.)

Under the federal law, each state is required to devise a definition of a “persistently dangerous” school and identify schools that meet the criteria. Students at such schools must be allowed to transfer to another public school that is not on the state’s list. Also, districts must allow any student who is the victim of a violent crime to transfer to another school.

State Expects Compliance

To be deemed persistently dangerous in California, a school must, for three years in a row, have had a firearms incident or a violent criminal offense, and have expelled a certain number of students—tied to the school’s overall student population—for any of nine offenses, including assault, brandishing a knife, and robbery. A school with 1,000 students would need to have 10 such infractions for three years in a row to make the state’s list.

Some critics have called that definition, as well as those established by some other states, unreasonably lax. (“States Report Few Schools As Dangerous,” Sept. 24, 2003.)

For the 2003-04 school year, only three states—New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota—reported any schools as persistently dangerous, for a total of 26 schools, according to data gathered by the Education Week Research Center and published in the newspaper’s report Quality Counts 2005.

The inspector general’s report on California concluded that the federal policy was “not adequately implemented” in the four districts reviewed, and it suggested steps to enhance local implementation.

At press time last week, officials in the California Department of Education who oversee the policy on transfers from unsafe schools could not be reached for comment.

A March 4 letter from the state education department to federal inspectors did not dispute the findings, but emphasized that the audit was conducted within the first two years of the law’s implementation, and that the state agency “fully expects” all districts to achieve full compliance with the federal measure.

All four districts reviewed did report some incidents that fall under the state’s “persistently dangerous” definition, but for each district, at least one incident that should have been reported was not.

The state said in its letter that California officials would revise the policy to include an evaluation of district and school procedures for collecting and reporting incidents.

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