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Last Updated: 04/12/2018


 Article of Interest - School Violence

What constitutes a dangerous school?

Few schools fit definition, state education board says.

by Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer, Friday, March 21, 2003

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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 qualify.


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 dangerous.


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 school.


"The bad apple stays in the basket and the good apple leaves?" asked board member Mollie Phillips.

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 schools.


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.

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