- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 11, 2004

The D.C. Office of the Inspector General (IG) has produced a damning audit of the school system’s incident reporting. It is must reading for everyone — from elected official to advocate and lobbyist — who even dares to feign interest in the safety of our children.

The recent audit is the fourth in a series that probes the security of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), and more are forthcoming, including an audit of physical security at schools and best practices around the country. We look forward to those reports, especially in light of the bloody 2003-04 school year and what the IG has uncovered so far.

In the audit, which covered the 2002-03 school year and was reported in The Washington Times on Sept. 9, the IG said that DCPS has an “excellent” system to report and record incidents. Indeed, while employees seemingly have a pretty good understanding of how to file an incident report and move that information up the chain of command within the bureaucracy of the school system, that is as far as it goes. The buck stopped nowhere.

When it came to serious incidents — including crimes involving weapons, drugs and violence — school and security officials failed 24 percent of the time to notify police, fire and emergency medical personnel. Authorities failed to notify parents 67 percent of the time. “DCPS has not developed a comprehensive, security incident-reporting system to centrally record and track all school security incidents from initiation to final disposition,” the IG said.

What’s more is that the lackadaisical climate created by D.C. Public Schools apparently puts it in violation of two federal laws — the Gun-Free Schools Act (GFSA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) — as well as the city’s own rules and regulations regarding school safety and discipline. Recall, NCLB not only requires school districts to report statistics to the U.S. Department of Education, but it allows the parents of children in dangerous schools to seek schooling elsewhere.

The statistics uncovered by the IG are indeed frightening. For example, of the 1,709 serious incidents reported between September 2002 and June 2003, 464 were weapons offenses. There also were 153 threats, 40 acts of vandalism, 19 robberies (which means violence and/or intimidation was involved) and 17 sex offenses. In addition, there were 52 drug cases. Parents can only imagine how many serious incidents were not reported, or were reported and never followed up on. Parents can only guess which of those 1,709 offenses involved teachers or other school personnel. Will parents ever know which schools are safe and which schools are violent?

The IG issued several recommendations, as usual, and the Office of the Superintendent vowed to follow up, as usual. Why it is imperative that school officials and law enforcement pick up where the audit left off is clear. For all parents know, a teachers or student who may have already displayed violent behavior may still be cursing in the hallways because authorities failed to do their job. As the IG said in his conclusion: The fragmented security policies and procedures have contributed to the inability of DCPS to determine the current and/or final disposition of reported incidents, and whether these incidents are under investigation or closed. The seriousness of this situation is further compounded by the fact that DCPS may not be able to reliably comply with NCL Act or GFSA.”

It’s worth noting that the Metropolitan Police Department is trying to strengthen school security and already is placing uniformed police officers in schools. What spawned that effort was the arson, gunplay and bloodshed last school year that led to the death and injury of several students.

We urge parents and teachers to read the startling report for themselves (www.oig.dc.gov). The IG sent copies of its audit and recommendations to all pertinent parties in school headquarters and in City Hall, as well as to senators and congressmen responsible for oversight of the budget and operations of the nation’s capital. Parents must not let school officials take this report and toss it on the shelf, as they usually do — not when the safety of children is at stake.

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