DECREASE IN REPORTED SCHOOL VIOLENCE CONTINUES
The fifth annual statewide report on school violence showed a 7.35 percent decrease in the number of overall statewide incidents with a reported 7,543 occurrences for 1997-98, down from 8,141 in 1996-97. Of the three most frequently occurring acts, possession of a controlled substance was down 4 percent (2,620 compared to 2,720) and assault on a school employee was down 16 percent (1,161 versus 1,375). Only "possession of a weapon" did not exhibit a decrease compared to 1996-97 (2,723 versus 2,690), but it increased by only 1.2 percent. Together, these categories account for 86 percent of all reported acts.
The vast majority of reporting schools--77.7 percent--had five or fewer incidents (compared to 76 percent last year), and 40.5 percent reported zero incidents (compared to 39 percent last year).
Decreases continued to be reported for assault with a serious injury, down 22 percent (288 compared to 371 the previous year); possession of a firearm, down 2 percent (160 compared to 163 the previous year); assault with a weapon, down 35 percent (126 compared to 194 the previous year); sexual assault, down 18 percent (201 compared to 245); sexual offense, down 28 percent (92 versus 127); robbery, down 36 percent (143 versus 223); and robbery with a weapon, down 75 percent (4 compared to 16 the previous year).
Still, far less than 1 percent (.6) of students were involved in some reported school violence act, based on 7,703 student offenders out of a projected 1997-98 student population of 1,226,293.
State Superintendent Mike Ward said of the latest report, "I'm thrilled to see that our safe school initiatives are having a positive impact on our students' learning environment. Continuing and expanding upon these initiatives should ensure that this trend continues with the hope that, one school year soon, we will be able to achieve our goal of zero violence."
State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk agreed that the report debunks public perception regarding school violence. "Based on my visits to schools across the state and the statistics in this report, our public schools continue to be the safest places for our children and teachers. Much of the public's concern about conditions in our schools is based on perceptions and myths, rather than on facts. However, as long as there is any violence in our schools, it is too much."
Kirk attributed the second decrease in violence in two years to the implementation of Safe Schools plans, strong leadership, firm enforcement of the rules, and character education. He said the use of Safe Schools assistance teams and increased parental support of tough, but fair rules will result in continued improvement in conditions for learning in our public schools.
Middle school (i.e. grades 6-8), often recognized as a difficult transition time for many young people, represents the largest contrast to the overall trend of decreased reportable incidents. Compared to 1996-97, these schools exhibited increased incidences of possession of weapons and firearms, assaults on school personnel, sexual assaults, and assaults resulting in serious personal injury.
This year, for the first time, data was collected on student offenders who are classified as exceptional children. Of the nine most commonly reported incidents, exceptional children offenders account for a disproportionate share of assaults on school personnel (51 percent); sexual offense and sexual assault (32 and 30 percent); assault with a weapon and assault resulting in serious personal injury (34 and 25 percent); and robbery (25 percent).
"It's important that we further investigate apparently disproportionate involvement of any level of schools (e.g. middle schools) or group of students (e.g. exceptional children) in reportable school crime and violence. The use of an Expanded Incident Report by schools this year will provide us additional information which can then be used as a guide for targeted interventions and actions by school officials," said Dr. Elsie Leak, director of the Department of Public Instruction's School Improvement Division.
Dr. Leak also warned against comparisons among schools or school districts. "A high number of reported incidents, for example, may be indicative of a school or school system that has implemented comprehensive security measures, whereas another school or school system with a low number of reported incidents may not have implemented such measures and is therefore less likely to detect some incidents. Also, interpretation, detection, documentation and reporting of specified acts and incidents continues to vary slightly across schools and school districts."
The Annual Report on School Violence resulted from the Governor's Task Force on School Violence and the Safe Schools Act, passed by the NC General Assembly in 1993. The Safe Schools Act mandates that the State Board of Education issues an annual report, based on reports from all school systems of incidents of specified acts of disruption, crime or violence on school property. The report does not include all disruptive, violent or criminal acts. For instance, vandalism and student fights that do not involve serious injury are not included.
For additional information, contact your local school system, or Dr. Elsie Leak at 919.807.3911.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.