What constitutes a dangerous school?
Few schools fit definition, state education
Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer,
Friday, March 21, 2003
For more articles like this
Harrisburg, PA - If students
attend a school where assaults, robberies and other crimes
are committed regularly, they should be allowed to
transfer to another school.
That's the idea behind the
"Unsafe School Choice Option" regulations contained in the
federal No Child Left Behind education law. But each state
must adopt its own definition of a "persistently dangerous
school," and under criteria being considered by the state
Board of Education, few if any Pennsylvania schools would
The board yesterday discussed
proposed definitions that would require an arrest to be
made in any violent incident before it could be counted
against the school. According to yearly school violence
data, few arrests are ever reported by school districts.
The draft proposal of the
state education department that was given to board members
yesterday suggests a minimum of five arrests in one year
before a school could be considered persistently
In Pittsburgh Public Schools,
for instance, the latest school violence report shows only
six of the district's 91 schools reported any arrests.
None of those reported more than three.
Some state board members
expressed concern that schools with smaller student
populations would be more likely to be labeled
"persistently dangerous" after only a few incidents.
The Pennsylvania Department
of Education's proposal recommends that schools with fewer
than 250 students would be termed persistently dangerous
if school officials reported arrests in five dangerous
incidents per year. For a school of more than 1,000, that
cutoff would be 20 incidents.
Those numbers are still a
work in progress, emphasized Myrna Delgado, director of
the department's safe schools office.
Also, board members
complained that the victims -- not the perpetrators -- of
violent crime would be the ones to transfer out of the
"The bad apple stays in the
basket and the good apple leaves?" asked board member
And board member James Barker
said that the law "ignores the reality of a persistently
dangerous community" and unfairly targets schools where
students come from unsafe neighborhoods.
The state plans to use data
from the annual school district violence reports --
reports that have been sharply criticized as flawed and
incomplete. School districts, with no oversight or
auditing by the state, report their own data. And until
this year, the state provided no clear-cut guidelines on
what precisely should be reported by districts.
Education Secretary Vicki
Phillips said after yesterday's meeting that the
department will look into ways to improve reporting by
Board members yesterday
approved minor portions of the proposal, including which
incidents would be considered violent offenses to be
counted against the school. Those include kidnapping,
robbery, aggravated assault, rape, sexual assault and
aggravated indecent assault.
Phillips said staff members
would continue to work on the proposal before taking it to
the board for a vote. By July 1, each state must have a
plan in place for students to transfer out of dangerous
schools, or risk losing federal funding.