There have been recent articles pertaining to under reporting in Florida Schools regarding both bullying incidents and acts of violence. The question is, whey have laws if those who are mandated to obey the laws are not doing so. Let's look at this realistically, if there are no penalities involved in not following the law, the give one good reason why schools should follow it. The same problem is going on in New York. The difference is, law makers recognize it and are doing something about it. Good Job New York. Here is an article from the Albany Times Union:
Students use Facebook to tease a classmate. A boy shoves a kid in the hallway outside the cafeteria. A girl is bullied in gym class.
State law requires schools to record such incidents and report them each year to the state Education Department, which uses the data to determine the safety of a school's environment through its Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting, or VADIR, system. Schools with too many incidents are placed on a watch list, but seldom penalized. The numbers are not verified, however, which makes them, in some cases, useless.
A Times Union examination of the data shows tremendous variation. Some schools report hundreds of incidents, while others claim not even one instance of bullying during an entire school year.
Consider these numbers: Troy Preparatory Charter School and the district's School 18 both reported no incidents of bullying, harassment, violence or disruption during the 2010-11 year, the latest school year for which statistics are available, while other nearby elementary schools reported dozens of incidents the same year. Some local high schools, including Green Tech Charter High School and Duanesburg High School, claimed no bullying, intimidation or harassment took place during that same school year. In New York City, 77 high schools reported the same thing.
The uneven reporting comes just as the state is increasing its anti-bullying legislation.
The Dignity for All Students Act, which increases penalties for bullying, was put in place last year and an anti-cyber bullying law takes effect in July.
For years, state officials have acknowledged that the system is deeply flawed, and potentially dangerous. But little has been done to correct the problem. One prominent law enforcement official is concerned that it has gotten worse.
"We're talking about kids' lives; we're talking about a hostile environment where kids do not want to go to school," said Kathleen Rice, Nassau County district attorney.
Part of the problem is confusion about how to report bullying and violence. (Among VADIR's 36 wide ranging reporting categories are homicide, forcible sex offenses and assault, as well as minor altercations, intimidation and alcohol possession.) Yet state and federal reports have found that some schools flout the law by underreporting to stay off the list of dangerous schools, or because administrators worry about the effect of bad reports on their careers. A district with a poor record could land on the persistently dangerous schools list and face possible sanctions and even closure if its statistics don't improve.
Wild disparities in reporting mask problems, Rice said. Inaccurate information hinders policymakers' ability to address problems and deprives parents of the opportunity to know the truth about the level of violence and bullying in the schools their children attend.
In November, Rice sent a detailed letter to the state Education Department that listed the problems and proposed some solutions. Department officials did not respond until Thursday, two days after a Times Union reporter contacted the Education Department to ask about the VADIR system and Rice's criticisms of it.
In his response to Rice, Education Commissioner John King wrote that the reporting system is a "well-intentioned, but poorly-enacted law" and acknowledged that it "rarely reflects the realities of school health and safety." King said the state will push for legislative change and better teacher training, and will convene a work-study group, consisting of law enforcement officials, to look at the issue.
The recently enacted legislation targets students who bully, which is viewed as an epidemic that has caused desperate young people to kill themselves or to harm others. Inaccurate and false reporting weakens that law, as well as new anti-cyber bullying legislation set to take effect in July, Rice said.
She said the state must institute meaningful penalties, including revoking teaching certificates of educators who falsify reports. Rice called for better teacher training, and new reporting categories that eliminate obfuscating legal language and clearly identify more serious infractions. She said gang activity must be singled out as an additional category so police are involved earlier. The current system relies on data that are two years old, she said, instead of using real time reporting, which would portray the current state of a school.
"If kids are not in a safe environment, they're not going to go, they're not going to learn," she said.
The system does not allow for any middle ground, Voorheesville Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder said. Her district did not report any incidents of bullying or intimidation at the high school or elementary school and just one at the middle school in 2010-11. She said a student telling a classmate that he is stupid in the hallway shouldn't be considered in the same category as a student who stalks and threatens a classmate, though the state does not differentiate. She said Voorheesville, which lists incidents in other categories such as minor altercations, always consults with a lawyer about how to categorize student behavior.
"There's a lot of confusion out there," she said.
Even though Troy Prep and School 18 in Troy appear on paper to be free of violent and disruptive student behavior, each reported student suspensions on other state records. Troy Prep suspended 18 students, according to other state documentation. Troy Prep Director of Operations Mark Muscatiello issued a statement about the school's failure to report any incidents on the VADIR system.
"We do issue suspensions for a variety of student misbehavior, not all of which are covered by VADIR reporting," he said. "At Troy Prep we 'sweat the small stuff' and consistently enforce expectations at all times," the statement said.
Yet, just down the road from those schools, and with a similar student population, is Ark Community Charter School. Ark reported 53 incidents of violence, bullying and altercations in 2010-11.
Executive Director Mary Theresa Streck said reporting incidents is an essential part of monitoring student behavior and training staff to address problems. She said Ark embraces the data so parents know what takes place in school and can learn to help their children. She said her staff y attended a summer session in de-escalating aggressive behavior when they realized their numbers were too high in that category.
"We're teachers, we're supposed to be honest," she said. "No one in this whole process is out to do anything but improve the behavior of children."
Whatever its value to schools, the system is not monitored adequately and there can be no certainty of its accuracy, said Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Slentz, something the state Education Department is working to change. He acknowledged that some school officials may underreport incidents of misbehavior in an effort to avoid the state watch list. He said the task force considering a new system will meet in May with a goal of creating an effective and accurate system that doesn't rely on two-year-old data in place by September.
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