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DiNapoli: Some NYC Schools Failing to Report Violent, Disruptive Incidents

400 Incidents, Including Assaults, Weapons Possession Not Reported as Required by State Education Law
April 28, 2015

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli today announced that an audit of the New York City Department of Education (DoE) found it did not report hundreds of violent and disruptive incidents to the State Education Department (SED) as required under the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act. SED uses local districts’ reports of disruptive behavior to create School Violence Indexes (SVI) that can determine if a school needs to develop safety and emergency response plans.

“Every child has a fundamental right to an education in a safe environment,” DiNapoli said. “When school districts fail to report disruptive and violent incidents, or downgrade them, they leave parents in the dark and children in danger. I’m encouraged that the Department of Education agreed with most of our recommendations and I expect they will address the shortcomings we’ve found.”

DiNapoli’s audit examined 10 schools (two in each borough), several of which have struggled with high rates of disruptive and violent incidents, and found:

  • DoE failed to include more than 400 reportable incidents in its report submitted to the state that is used to calculate the Schools Violence Index. 126 of these incidents were in categories defined as violent, including assaults, sexual offenses and weapons possession;
  • As a result of misreporting, some schools may have received incorrect school violence ratings which can determine whether a school needs a special safety plan; and
  • On 184 occasions, students apparently left nine of the schools without permission. In 177 of those instances there was no documentation that staff looked for them or brought them back to their classrooms or that the students returned to their classrooms on their own.

How Incident Reporting Works

Under the 2000 SAVE Act, state Education Law requires all school districts to file annual Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports (VADIRs) with SED. In New York City, schools first file an incident report with tDoE within 24 hours of its occurrence. The DoE’s Office of Safety and Youth Development determines which of the 20 VADIR categories the incident belongs in and whether they need to be reported to SED.

Unreported Incidents

The audit checked the 10 schools' incident reports for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 schools years. During that time, the DoE reported to the state that there were 989 violent and disruptive incidents at the schools. The schools showed a significant drop from one year to the next, reporting 637 incidents in 2011-2012, followed by 352 incidents the next year.  However, auditors found that the schools had recorded three times that many incidents over the two years and that DoE should have reported another 428 incidents to the state but did not.

The incidents that were not reported to SED include:

  • 50 incidents of assault with a physical injury, for example:
    • At IS 27 in Staten Island, a student pushed another male student over a desk knocking him to the floor with the desk landing on top of him;
  • At PS 83 in Manhattan, a student punched another student in the face and threw him into the surrounding desks and onto the floor; 13 sex offenses; and
  • 2 incidents of confiscated weapons.

Reported Incidents Downgraded

The audit also found 52 incidents that were reported to SED but should have been classified in a more serious category, including 17 incidents that qualified as assaults with physical injury but were classified as less-serious minor altercations or criminal mischief. For example:

  • A student at IS 190 in the Bronx student punched another student in the face causing bruising and swelling, which should have been listed as an assault with physical injury but was instead reported by DoE to SED as a minor altercation; and
  • A student at IS 27 put another student in a headlock and hit his head against a wall, resulting in a trip to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with head trauma. The audit concluded that DoE should have classified this as an assault with a serious physical injury, but the DoE reported it as an assault with a physical injury.

Why Misreporting Puts Students at Risk

Failure to report incidents that disrupt learning make it harder to identify when schools need to take special action. The SED uses the annual reports it receives from districts to measure an individual school’s ratio of violent incidents to enrollment. This ratio is known as the School Violence Index (SVI). A school with a high SVI score and 60 or more violent incidents in a year is considered “Potentially Persistently Dangerous.” If the high score and incidents continue for a second consecutive year, the school is considered “Persistently Dangerous.” Officials must inform parents when a school is designated “Persistently Dangerous” and offer them an option to enroll their child in another school.

DiNapoli’s audit recommended that DoE:

  • Take steps to ensure that all reportable incidents are recorded and submitted to SED for VADIR purposes;
  • Ensure that each reportable incident is accurately categorized based on SED guidelines;
  • Implement procedures to prevent and/or immediately detect unauthorized student departures from  school buildings; and
  • Ensure that appropriate actions are taken to respond to unauthorized student departures and such actions are adequately documented.

In its response, DoE asserted that the audit made mistaken assumptions about the reporting process, however auditors maintain that DoE’s assertions are incorrect, as detailed in the full audit which can be viewed online at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093015/14n1.pdf

Related Audits
State Education Department: Compliance With the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act
New York City Department of Education: Compliance With State Arts Education Requirements
New York City Department of Education: Accuracy of Reported Discharge Data

Exhibit B

VADIR Reportable Incidents by Category Documented in OORS for 10 Selected Schools for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 School Years
SED Violent and Disruptive Incident Category VADIR Code Reportable
Incidents per
Audit Based on OORS
Records
Data
Publicly
Reported in VADIR
Difference
Underreported
(Overreported)
Homicide* 1 0 0 0
Forcible sex offenses* 2.1 0 0 0
Other sex offenses*  2.2 52 39 13
Robbery* 3 6 4 2
Assault with serious physical injury* 4 9 8 1
Arson (intent to damage)* 5 7 7 0
Kidnapping* 6 0 0 0
Assault with physical injury* 7 232 182 50
Reckless endangerment* 8 88 33 55
Minor altercations (no weapon) 9 367 262 105
Minor altercations (with weapon)* 9 35 46 (11)
Intimidation, harassment, menacing, or bullying (no weapon) 10 140 111 29
Intimidation, harassment, menacing, or bullying (with weapon)* 10 16 29 (13)
Burglary (no weapon) 11 1 0 1
Burglary (with weapon)* 11 0 0 0
Criminal mischief (no weapon) 12 19 16 3
Criminal mischief (with weapon)*  12 2 2 0
Larceny or other theft (no weapon) 13 18 11 7
Larceny or other theft (with weapon)* 13 0 0 0
Bomb threat 14 1 1 0
False alarm 15 4 4 0
Riot (no weapon) 16 2 0 2
Riot (with weapon)* 16 0 0 0
Weapons possession (confiscated/entry screening)* 17.1 6 1 5
Weapons possession (found/other circumstances)* 17.2 5 23 (18)
Use, possession, or sale of drugs 18 7 7 0
Use, possession, or sale of alcohol 19 3 3 0
Other disruptive incidents 20 397 200 197
Totals   1,417 989 428

*Incident categories used to calculate a school’s SVI.

Exhibit C

Reportable Incidents by School for 10 Selected Schools for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 School Years
DBN School Name No. of
Incidents 
Reportable per OSC
No. of Incidents
Actually
Reported
Through VADIR
No. of Incidents
Under-Reported
(Over-reported)
Through VADIR
30Q166 PS 166 Henry Gradstein 61 48 13
13K596 MS 596 Peace Academy 167 140 27
26Q811 PS Q811 55 44 11
31R027 IS 27 Anning S Prall 408 243 165
04M083 P.S. 83 Luis Munoz Rivera 7 9 (2)
17K334 MS 334 26 19 7
31R605 Staten Island Technical High School 70 21 49
12X190 E.S.M.T - I.S. 190 41 28 13
10X085 PS 85 Great Expectations 281 207 74
05M469 Choir Academy of Harlem 301 230 71
Totals   1,417 989 428