- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The D.C. public school system routinely fails to notify parents and guardians when students get caught with drugs or become violent in school, the D.C. Office of Inspector General disclosed in an audit yesterday.

The Inspector General’s Office reviewed more than 100 “serious security incidents” involving students last year, finding that in more than half of the cases there was no evidence that officials notified parents.

The agency found that parents weren’t told even when students were involved in simple assault, assault with a deadly weapon, concealment of a deadly weapon, arson or drug possession.

News of the report yesterday prompted the District chapter of the PTA to demand new policies ensuring parental notification about all student infractions.

“If that information isn’t being shared with parents or guardians, then the behavior problems aren’t going to be corrected,” said D.C. PTA President Darlene T. Allen.

The failure to notify parents occurred despite a D.C. Board of Education policy that school officials provide “adequate and timely notification of student infractions … ,” according to the report issued by Interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen .

Instead, the school system’s “standard operating procedure” does not require parental notification if students engage in vandalism, arson, drug offenses, bomb threats, robbery or blackmail at school, the Inspector General’s Office found.

The school system does contact parents for some security-related incidents, such as extortion, kidnapping, sex offenses and theft. But the policies do not require parental notification in a hostage situation, according to the report.

The audit analyzed a random sample of 119 “serious security incidents” during the 2003-04 school year and faults school-system officials for “outdated policies and inconsistent reporting requirements.”

The school system’s policy on parental notification contains “confusing guidance, inconsistences and needs to be changed,” according to the report.

During the 2003-04 school year, there were more than 1,700 “serious security incidents” in city schools, including 464 weapons offenses, according to the inspector general’s report.

Many of the cases remain unsolved. In most instances, investigations into serious security incidents remained open for nearly a year, according to the report.

School officials did not respond yesterday to questions concerning the audit. But D.C. Interim Superintendent Robert Rice acknowledged problems in an Aug. 31 letter to Mr. Andersen.

Mr. Rice wrote that the school system will form a task force of security officials, attorneys, human resources officials and assistant superintendents to update policies and reporting requirements.

He said the school system also will develop rules to ensure “timely notification to parents/guardians of all student infractions and disciplinary actions” by no later than Oct. 15.

The audit is the latest in a series of reports by the Inspector General’s Office involving the troubled school system’s security practices.

An audit last month found that the school system had overpaid a private security contractor by as much as $8.8 million.

The inspector general also plans to issue reports about physical security at schools; background and training of private school security guards; and a review of security practices in D.C. schools compared with practices at other urban school systems.

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