School Climate & Safety

School Safety Reports Get a Closer Look in Ga.

By Julie Blair — June 11, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Only months before a federal law gives families the option of transferring children who attend “persistently dangerous” schools to other sites, Georgia officials continue to look into how it is that the Gwinnett County and Atlanta school districts significantly underestimated their discipline problems.

School administrators in the Gwinnett County system, located in suburban Atlanta, and in the state’s capital city failed to alert the Georgia education department to thousands of incidents that occurred during the 2001-02 school year, some of which included drugs and weapons. Officials in both school systems cite human error and technological problems as the cause.

The state education department began investigations in both Gwinnett County and Atlanta last month. Around the same time, the Gwinnett County district attorney launched a probe into the reporting anomalies, though no similar action has been taken in Atlanta. Meanwhile, the state board of education is scheduled on June 12 to approve new data-collection criteria and a definition of “persistently dangerous” schools—as is required by the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. (“Unsafe Label Will Trigger School Choice,” Oct. 23, 2002.)

“This has all been unfortunate, but it has highlighted for us and for school districts that we have to have accurate reporting,” said Stuart Bennett, a deputy state schools superintendent.

School safety experts wonder if the federal rule will perpetuate, or even encourage, underreporting of disciplinary incidents in general.

They say such problems are already common in school districts. While some administrators lie about such data for fear that their schools will earn bad reputations, such experts say, other school leaders accidentally corrupt the statistics by misinterpreting reporting laws.

“I’ve been in the field for over 20 years and worked with 35 states, and [the problem] is prevalent,” said Kenneth S. Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm based in Cleveland.

Worse, he said, is that “there are very few incentives for school administrators to report accurately, and absolutely no consequences for those who do not.”

Officials at the U.S. Department of Education, however, dispute those criticisms. “Most are doing an extremely good job reporting,” said William Modzeleski, the director of the department’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.

Reporting Glitches

The Georgia investigations were precipitated by news reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and on TV station WSB of Atlanta, which found that officials in the Gwinnett County schools had failed to report 23,000 discipline incidents—some 85 percent of the total that should have been reported for 2001-02. The joint investigative report also found that 40 of Atlanta’s 91 public schools did not report any discipline data at all to the state.

Discipline reports to the state are an annual requirement under state law.

A majority of the errors in Gwinnett County were tracked to a flawed computer program, said J. Alvin Wilbanks, the superintendent and chief executive officer of the 123,000-student district. Other problems were missed because cases were miscoded when entered into district computers, he added.

“We’re going back and making sure we have all of the processes put in place, and that they’re being carried out,” Mr. Wilbanks said last week. “We never tried to hide anything.”

The trouble in the 54,000-student Atlanta district occurred in part because some administrators thought their buildings did not have situations serious enough to be filed with the state, while other information was missing because it was erroneously deleted, state officials said.

The errors were unintentional, and the district has overhauled its computer system and transferred the responsibility of data collection to the district’s research department, said Seth Coleman, a spokesman for the Atlanta schools.

Those missed incidents accounted for only .06 percent of the total that should have been reported, he added.

Both districts are working to cleanse the erroneous data.

State officials said they believed that the mistakes made in both cases were not intentional. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said in an interview that he was still trying to make that determination.

Soon, the Georgia state board of education will vote on a new definition of “persistently dangerous,” as well as a new data-collection requirement that officials hope will be clearer, Mr. Bennett said. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, parents will be allowed to transfer students out of “persistently dangerous” schools beginning this coming fall.

As in many other states, Georgia’s draft document for complying with the federal requirements covers only the worst offenses, and leaves out other acts that are troubling, such as gang activity, said Curtis S. Lavarello, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, based in St. Anthony, Fla.

Few schools would be considered “persistently dangerous” under the draft language in Georgia, Mr. Lavarello said.

On the other hand, he added, “You could penalize some principals who are really very aggressive . . . because they’ll be labeled a persistently dangerous school.”

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
Jupiterimages/Getty
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.
School Climate & Safety Former NRA President Promotes Gun Rights at Fake Graduation Set Up by Parkland Parents
A former NRA president invited to give a commencement address to a school that doesn’t exist was set up to make a point about gun violence.
Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2 min read
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the CPAC meeting in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.
David Keene, the former president of the NRA, promoted gun rights in a speech he thought was a rehearsal for a commencement address to graduating students in Las Vegas. The invitation to give the speech was a set up by Parkland parents whose son was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP