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September 17, 2007

DiNapoli: Audit Finds Improvements
in the Collection of School Violence Data

Prior Audit Found Many Serious Violent Incidents Not Reported to SED;
SED Implemented 13 of 14 Audit Recommendations

The State Education Department (SED) significantly improved how it is collecting and evaluating data on violent and disruptive incidents in schools after a state audit released in May 2006 found underreporting and other serious problems, according to a follow up audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. This year SED identified 17 new schools as “persistently dangerous” based on data provided by the schools for a total of 27 schools statewide.

“The number of persistently dangerous schools is up from last year,” DiNapoli said. “This isn’t good news. Student safety has to come first. But we cannot protect students from violence unless there is accurate reporting. We need reliable information on where the problems are so we can address them. In response to our audit, the State Education Department has made significant progress on the reporting of violent incidents. SED has implemented nearly all of our recommendations and should be commended.”

“The Regents are determined to help all schools become safe. We must have accurate information to accomplish that,” Education Commissioner Richard Mills said. “Only then will we know where the problems are. We have taken significant actions to improve reporting, but there is more that needs to be done. The Regents are especially concerned about large urban high schools. We have increased monitoring of schools and are working with school officials to improve safety across the State.”

School districts around the State are required to submit data regarding violent and disruptive incidents to SED under the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act, which went into effect in 2000. SED is required to review the information to determine if any schools should be designated as persistently dangerous, and to publish an annual list of the State’s most dangerous schools. This list of schools was released by SED on August 21, 2007.

Under SAVE and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the parents of children attending schools designated as persistently dangerous must be given the option of sending their children to another school in the district, if one is available.

The actions taken by SED in response to the audit included:

  • Visiting 83 schools between May 2006 to June 2007 to determine if the schools had properly classified violent and disruptive incidents. New criteria was developed to identify schools at the greatest risk of noncompliance with reporting requirements, and SED focused site visits on these higher risk schools.
  • Developing a uniform training program for school districts around the state. The materials are available on SED’s website and on DVD.
  • Streamlining the Violent and Disruptive Incident Report (VADIR) to make it easier for school officials to report information. SED also revised the definitions of certain incident classifications and posted these changes on its website.
  • Requiring all schools to submit their VADIR information electronically, including confirmation that parents whose children were the victims of violent offenses had been notified.
  • Requiring superintendents to certify any incidents of violent or disruptive behavior reported to SED. If a report is not certified, SED staff contacts the school directly.
  • Implementing a series of internal checks to test data discrepancies and correct errors.

The only recommendation that SED had not fully implemented was adopting procedures for assessing evidence presented by schools seeking to avoid being designated as persistently dangerous.

The prior audit, which examined reported data for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years, found that at least one third of violent incidents documented in 10 of the 15 school districts audited had not been reported to SED. At five of the school districts, more than eight out of ten incidents were not reported to SED. Many of the most serious incidents were not reported including incidents in which a weapon was used or possessed. School officials told auditors that the materials provided by SED were unclear and confusing. School officials reported that the incident categories were vague and did not cover all possible occurrences.

Click here for a copy of the audit

Click here for a copy of the audit released in 2006



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