School Safety Data In UT, Elsewhere Often Missing, Inconsistent


Every year, state and federal laws require school districts to report certain misbehaviors. An annual state report includes data on incidents of truancy, aggravated assault, tobacco, alcohol, drug, arson and weapons violations. But the Salt Lake Tribune says that report contains inaccuracies and inconsistencies that make it all but impossible to judge the safety of one district compared with another. For example, in 2008-09, a 68,000-student district had 5,642 truancies, while the an 81,000-student district had none.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway said differences in how schools and districts decide what constitutes a reportable incident can lead to inconsistencies in the state report. For example, he said, different principals might have different ideas of what qualifies as a fight. Experts say it's a nationwide problem. Ronald Stephens of the California-based National School Safety Center said school crime nationwide is often underreported. Not all schools consistently report the data, sometimes because they don't consider it a priority, because of inadequate training or for other reasons. “If you think about it, what's the incentive for a school principal to report crime?” he said. “If you report too much crime, then the public will say, 'Wow, you have some real problems over there.'?”

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