Houston Accused of “Cooking Books” On School Crime


The Houston school district did not include in its annual crime count the rape of a disabled 17-year-old student in a high school for which the attacher got a 20-year prison term. The New York Times says that is just one of many crimes not reported to the state by Houston school officials. The school district’s own police have compiled 3,091 assaults in four years; the district listed just 761 assaults in annual disciplinary summaries.

The district says its reporting has been proper. A new federal law requires states to use violence data to identify “persistently dangerous” schools, and Education Secretary Rod Paige, former Houston school superintendent, is in charge of enforcing it.

Houston is “cooking the books,” said Michael J. Witkowski, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Detroit Mercy, who has studied Houston’s school violence and crime reporting system.

How does this happen? One reason is that some cases handled in the criminal justice system are not treated as school disciplinary matters, the basis of reports to the state. Off-campus crimes and those committed by intruders would be reported by the school police but not by principals, because the district is obligated to account only for on-campus crimes committed by students.

The New York Times filed a request under the Texas Open Records Act to obtain crime incident reports filed by the police at six schools from 1999 to 2001. The district responded by asking the Texas attorney general to block access to the requested documents, arguing that to release them would compromise student privacy and interfere with “the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime.”

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/07/education/07HOUS.html?hp

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