New York State public and charter schools, with a combined student population of nearly 2.7 million, reported more than 32,000 violent and disruptive incidents in the 2017-18 school year (SY), including assaults, bomb threats and sexual offenses, according to a report released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
"Violence of any kind has no place in our schools and the public rightly demands that school officials take the necessary steps to protect all students and faculty from threats," DiNapoli said. "In order to learn effectively, students need to feel safe. Sadly, many students and faculty are confronted with violent and disruptive activity on a regular basis. My office recently completed a series of audits looking at the programs New York has in place to keep our school children out of harm’s way. We found much work needs to be done. We will continue to examine and report on the issues that most affect New York’s schools and education."
The Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act was adopted into law in 2000, a year after the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. The SAVE Act requires all state public schools, including charter schools, to document "violent and disruptive incidents" taking place on school property. It also requires the board of every school district, every board of cooperative educational services and every county vocational education and extension board, as well as the chancellor of the New York City school district, to develop comprehensive school safety plans.
Under the act’s requirements, the more than 4,700 New York state public and charter schools reported 32,084 violent and disruptive incidents to the State Education Department in SY 2017-18. The incidents were classified as: 14,144 assaults (44.1 percent of incidents), 7,006 alcohol or drugs, 5,464 weapons possession, 4,583 sexual offenses, 692 false alarms, 194 bomb threats and one homicide.
New York City’s public schools, which serve 1.1 million students, or 40 percent of all students in the state, reported 17,991 incidents, or 56 percent of the state’s total. Even though a recent DiNapoli audit found that the city’s schools had underreported and misclassified similar types of data in the past, the city’s rate of 16.8 incidents per thousand students was higher than any other region in New York.
The types of challenges differ by grade level. Elementary schools, with nearly 1.3 million pupils, reported the lowest rate of incidents (8.7 per thousand students), but 83.2 percent of these were either assaults or sexual offenses. Incident rates climb with grade level: middle or junior high schools had 13.6 incidents per 1,000 students and senior high schools had 15.1 incidents per 1,000 students. Both had higher shares of incidents involving alcohol and drugs, as well as weapons possessions.
The large city school districts of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, with 108,000 students, had 1,417 incidents and the highest rate (13.2 per thousand students), outside New York City. High-need rural and urban/suburban districts had high rates as well (11.7 and 11.3 incidents per 1,000 students, respectively).
The other, largely suburban downstate districts of the Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions had the lowest rates in the state, at 6.1 and 7.6 incidents per thousand students, respectively. Upstate incident rates varied from 9 per thousand in the North Country to 12 per thousand in the Capital District.
Just over a quarter, or 1,210, of all public and charter schools reported having no incidents of any kind in 2017-18. Collectively, these schools had a student population of more than half a million. When looking at schools by grade level, elementary schools were far more likely to report no incidents (nearly 40 percent of all, or 1,034 schools) compared to middle or junior high schools (11.4 percent) and senior high schools (3.4 percent).
Excluding New York City and charter schools, public school districts reported capital spending of just over $27 million to upgrade security in their buildings from SY 2013-14 to 2017-18. More than 50 percent, or $15 million, of these expenditures was spent on video surveillance equipment. Nearly $8 million went to hardening of interior or exterior doors. Hardening doors includes the purchase and installation of commercial door jams, deadbolt locks and re-enforced screws, plates and hinges. School districts also spent $3.5 million on electronic security systems for operations such as access and intrusion controls, including alarming facilities. These figures do not include spending on personnel, such as school resource officers or staff to handle oversight of entrances, which is not separately reported.
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This year, DiNapoli’s office completed a series of audits on compliance with the SAVE Act. The first audit found SED was not sufficiently monitoring school districts’ compliance with the act’s safety planning requirements. The second examined the New York City Department of Education’s implementation of safety planning requirements, finding it needed to improve compliance with the law and city regulations. DiNapoli also released a summary of audits conducted in 17 school districts and two charter schools outside New York City, finding deficiencies at all.
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