Audit Finds NY Schools Significantly Underreported Violent Incidents

Auditors reviewed incidents for seven schools outside of New York City for the 2011-12 school year, identifying 935 unreported incidents at six schools. This represents an underreporting of 29% of the 3,175 reportable incidents found.

The State Education Department (SED) of New York has agreed to improve its enforcement of the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (SAVE Act) after a state audit found schools failed to report numerous cases of violent and disruptive incidents and misclassified dozens of others, often as less serious events, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said on Tuesday.

“It appears that many schools are failing to live up to the reporting requirements, leaving parents in the dark about violence and other incidents that affect the classroom learning environment,” he said in a press release. “The State Education Department is taking necessary steps to reform this program, and I urge them to make these changes a priority. Parents and children should expect that schools are taking school safety seriously and are being given proper warning if problems are happening.”

The SAVE Act requires SED, school districts and individual schools to take steps toward providing a safe learning environment for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Under the act, public school districts must develop district-wide school safety plans and codes of conduct, and develop emergency response plans for each building.

To comply with the SAVE Act, SED requires that every public school in the state compile a record of each reportable violent or disruptive incident that occurs on school property. Schools submit an annual summary of these incidents, called the Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR, to their district office. The summary must include a count of the violent and disruptive incidents by category that occurred during the prior school year as well as details about the incidents.

DiNapoli’s auditors reviewed incident records for seven schools outside of New York City for the 2011-12 school year, identifying a total of 935 unreported VADIR incidents at six of the schools. This represents an underreporting of 29% of the 3,175 reportable incidents found by auditors. The unreported incidents included assaults, bullying, drug use and possession, weapons possession and burglary.

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Auditors were not able to determine the full extent to which the seventh school, Burgard Vocational High School in Buffalo, underreported because it used an incorrect recording and reporting methodology.

Findings include:

  • East High School in Rochester reported 256 VADIR incidents, but auditors determined it should have reported 769, including two sex offenses that involved inappropriate sexual contact and 11 unreported weapons possession incidents;
  • Schenectady High School failed to report 290 of the 1,824 incidents identified by auditors, including an arson and 11 drug possession incidents;
  • Fulton Junior High School reported 289 incidents, but should have reported 368;
  • Castleton Academy High School of Oceanside in Nassau County, did not report seven of the 15 incidents it should have;
  • The Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central failed to report 26 of the 163 incidents it should have, including 11 incidents of intimidation, harassment, menacing or bullying; and
  • Pleasantville High School in Westchester County did not report 20 of the 36 incidents it should have, including ten incidents of intimidation, harassment, menacing or bullying.

The auditors also identified 82 VADIR incidents that these six schools misclassified in their internal records, generally as categories that were considered less serious.

Although Burgard used an incorrect reporting methodology, auditors were able to determine that Burgard should have reported more VADIR incidents than it did. According to an analysis of the data available to auditors, Burgard and another school, Fulton, exceeded the threshold SED uses to identify whether a school is potentially persistently dangerous or persistently dangerous.

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