Pennsylvania Dept. of Education's Administration of Safe School Activities is Lacking

HARRISBURG, PA.

Auditor General Jack Wagner said today that the Department of Education has adopted a hands-off, reactive approach to the task of addressing violence in Pennsylvania schools, impeding its ability to quickly identify dangerous schools and target limited state resources to assist schools that need the most help.

Wagner said that a special performance audit, released today, found that the Department of Education was failing to enforce Act 26, which the General Assembly passed in 1995 to address violence in Pennsylvania schools. The law required the Department of Education to collect school violence statistics and issue the information each year in a School Safety Annual Report. The report is used to determine if a school should be identified as a “Persistently Dangerous School.” If a school is identified as such, it must submit a corrective action plan to the department detailing proposed actions to prevent school violence.

Act 26 also required the Department of Education to create an Office of Safe Schools. Wagner said his auditors determined that the Department of Education was failing on both scores: It was neither verifying the violence statistics it received from schools and issuing its annual report in a timely manner, and it had not created an Office of Safe Schools. Instead, the department created the Division of Student and Safe School Services within its Bureau of Community and Student Services, which is at the bottom of the department’s organizational chart.

“Parents should never have to worry about whether their children’s learning environment is safe and free from violence,” Wagner said. “The Department of Education must do everything in its power to ensure that Pennsylvania’s schools are the safest in the nation. The Department of Education must correct these deficiencies by first taking ownership of its critical responsibility to oversee school safety throughout Pennsylvania.” Wagner, who voted for Act 26 as a state senator, added, “The responsibility of overseeing school safety should be elevated to a deputy-level office by the Department of Education.”

Auditors found that the department failed to follow up and verify whether the nine schools in the Philadelphia School District, classified as persistently dangerous, had implemented corrective action plans, as required by law, to reduce violence. The department also failed to respond to the recommendations presented in the Philadelphia Safe School Advocate’s Annual Report and failed to provide evidence showing it provided the Advocate direction, vision, and oversight.

Wagner noted that during the last year of the audit period, 2005-06, there were nine persistently dangerous schools in the Philadelphia School District, but according to the latest data provided by the Department of Education, there are 20 persistently dangerous schools in the district.

Wagner said that the department should provide greater oversight and give greater consideration to the recommendations of Pennsylvania’s Safe School Advocate, or he would ask the General Assembly to move the position to another government agency. The special performance audit covered the period July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2006, and was initiated by Wagner to determine whether the Department of Education was enforcing safe-school requirements. Wagner’s audit included 25 recommendations for the Department of Education to strengthen its policies, controls, and oversight of safe-school initiatives, including:

  • Verifying the accuracy, completeness and consistency of its School      Safety Annual Report by developing a reasonable sampling approach,      comparing the data reported by schools with data on file with local      police, and improving its online reporting system to improve timeliness      of information.
  • Ensuring that persistently dangerous schools implement corrective action      plans to reduce violence at their schools.
  • Collecting and reviewing school districts’ required Disaster      Response and Emergency Preparedness Plan and Memoranda of Understanding      with local law enforcement to ensure they existed, were completed, and      were up to date to ensure every school is prepared in the event of an      emergency on school property.

For a full copy of the audit report, which includes the Department of Education’s response,click here.

Pennsylvania Department of Education December 2008 press release.

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