NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- It has been five years since we first reported on the falsification of data reported in the District's Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR, by the City School District of New Rochelle. We have raised the issue many times since.
This week, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli finally caught up to our reporting, issuing a statement that the New York State Education Department has not been enforcing the SAVE Act generally and, in particular, the required reporting of school violence and criminality and that school districts are understating and misreporting the data.
The data is required to calculate each school's "Serious Violent Incident Index".
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools that exceed a certain level on the "Serious Violent Incident Index" for two years in a row are classified as "Persistently Dangerous" at which point the District must allow parents to move their children out of the school to a different school at District expense.
If the New Rochelle School District accurately reported VADIR data to NYSED, Talk of the Sound determined that New Rochelle High School and Isaac E. Young Middle School would both have long ago been labeled as "Persistently Dangerous" schools. In the case of Isaac Young, such a designation would allow any parent, by right, to transfer their children to Albert Leonard Middle School, the higher performing of the two schools.
In a case study for an article in 2010, Talk of the Sound used data from the New Rochelle Police Department to prove that New Rochelle High School was significantly underreporting VADIR data -- the NRPD had received more criminal complaints than the high school reported to NYSED. Since not every stolen iPhone or physical altercation results in the filing of a criminal complaint there should be always be more incidents in a school's VADIR data than police complaints. At New Rochelle High School the opposite was true then and likely true now.
Talk of the Sound conducted our 2010 analysis after receiving reports from sources at the Westchester County District Attorney's office that they were aware -- one source had seen -- that New Rochelle High School kept two sets of books; one set for actual incidents that were kept in the event of litigation and another that was reported to NYSED.
One former schools administrator told Talk of the Sound of receiving calls from the District's central office telling them to reduce the incident report by 50% and resubmit the report.
This is not news to local law enforcement. Both the Westchester County District Attorney's office and the New Rochelle Police Department have been well aware for years that the City School District of New Rochelle has significantly underreported violent and disruptive incidents.
For example, in 2008, the New Rochelle Police Department filed incident reports for over 100 "violent and disruptive incidents" ranging from assault and battery to stick-up robberies. Law enforcement officials have been tracking gang activity -- prevalent throughout the high school -- for many years. Despite this, school officials initiated virtually no calls to police in 2008; victims or parents went to the police on their own. School officials generally do not cooperate with police investigations.
We reported just two months ago how New Rochelle High School officials failed to report an incident of two students involved in shooting a pellet gun in a crowded classroom. We first reported a failure of school officials to call police in 2009 when a student was assaulted resulting in a fractured jaw. New Rochelle High School Principal Don Conetta told the Journal News that the school reported the incident to a New Rochelle police youth officer within minutes. Lt. Christopher Hearle told the Journal News that Conetta's claims were false, that the incident was not reported officially to police until the mother of the injured teen reported an assault a day after the incident.
As we reported then:
Police records obtained by Talk of the Sound show that New Rochelle school officials have significantly under-reported the level of serious violent incidents at New Rochelle High School. For the 2007-2008 school year, the most recent year on record, the district reported a School Violence Index of 0.07 to the New York State Department of Education when police records indicate a School Violence Index more than double that figure. The actual figure is likely far higher because many crimes often go unreported to the police for a variety of reasons ranging from not realizing a crime has occurred at school (e.g. theft from a backpack not discovered until later), fear of retaliation, embarrassment at being a victim and so forth.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued a statement yesterday claiming the State Education Department (SED) has agreed to improve its enforcement of the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (SAVE Act) after a state audit found schools failed to report numerous cases of violent and disruptive incidents and misclassified dozens of others, often as less serious events.
“The SAVE Act was passed by the state Legislature in 2000 to boost school safety and address violence in our public schools,” DiNapoli said. “Unfortunately, it appears that many schools are failing to live up to the reporting requirements, leaving parents in the dark about violence and other incidents that affect the classroom learning environment. The State Education Department is taking necessary steps to reform this program, and I urge them to make these changes a priority. Parents and children should expect that schools are taking school safety seriously and are being given proper warning if problems are happening.”
The SAVE Act requires SED, school districts and individual schools to take steps toward providing a safe learning environment for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Under the act, public school districts must develop district-wide school safety plans and codes of conduct, and develop emergency response plans for each building.
To comply with the SAVE Act, SED requires that every public school in the state compile a record of each reportable violent or disruptive incident that occurs on school property. Schools submit an annual summary of these incidents, called the Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR, to their district office. The summary must include a count of the violent and disruptive incidents by category that occurred during the prior school year as well as details about the incidents.
DiNapoli’s auditors reviewed incident records for seven schools outside of New York City for the 2011-12 school year, identifying a total of 935 unreported VADIR incidents at six of the schools. This represents an underreporting of 29 percent of the 3,175 reportable incidents found by auditors. The unreported incidents included assaults, bullying, drug use and possession, weapons possession and burglary.
Auditors were not able to determine the full extent to which the seventh school, Burgard Vocational High School in Buffalo, underreported because it used an incorrect recording and reporting methodology.
The OSC Report found:
- East High School in Rochester reported 256 VADIR incidents, but auditors determined it should have reported 769, including two sex offenses that involved inappropriate sexual contact and 11 unreported weapons possession incidents.
- Schenectady High School failed to report 290 of the 1,824 incidents identified by auditors, including an arson and 11 drug possession incidents.
- Fulton Junior High School reported 289 incidents, but should have reported 368.
Castleton Academy High School of Oceanside in Nassau County, did not report seven of the 15 incidents it should have.
- The Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central failed to report 26 of the 163 incidents it should have, including 11 incidents of intimidation, harassment, menacing or bullying.
- Pleasantville High School in Westchester County did not report 20 of the 36 incidents it should have, including ten incidents of intimidation, harassment, menacing or bullying
DiNapoli’s auditors also identified 82 VADIR incidents that these six schools misclassified in their internal records, generally as categories that were considered less serious.
Although Burgard used an incorrect reporting methodology, auditors were able to determine that Burgard should have reported more VADIR incidents than it did. According to an analysis of the data available to auditors, Burgard and another school, Fulton, exceeded the threshold SED uses to identify whether a school is potentially persistently dangerous or persistently dangerous.
Auditors found SED did not designate persistently dangerous schools for the 2013-14 school year, despite the SAVE Act requirement that it do so annually. By not designating these schools, SED failed to comply with provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that require it to notify local educational agencies of this designation in time for these agencies to notify parents of the option to transfer to a safe public school. On Aug. 1, 2014 SED did designate schools on the 2014-15 persistently dangerous list.
While SED has used this data in the past to identify schools with comparatively high incident rates and provide assistance to help ensure they have adequate violence prevention and response programs, these efforts are compromised if the underlying data is faulty, according to DiNapoli’s auditors.
DiNapoli recommended SED:
Conduct and document a risk assessment related to compliance with the SAVE Act and VADIR requirements. Decide where to best focus limited resources to help schools enhance school safety and improve the completeness and accuracy of VADIR reporting;
Comply with provisions of the SAVE Act and the corresponding regulations that require SED to annually designate persistently dangerous schools, notify local educational agencies of the designation so they can notify parents timely of the option to transfer to a safe public school, if one is available;
Report annual VADIR results to the Governor, the Legislature and the Board of Regents. Improve and enhance training efforts to reach more schools and provide targeted assistance to higher risk schools and school districts; and
Review Burgard’s and Fulton’s incident records for the 2011-12 school year and other years as applicable to determine if either school should have been designated persistently dangerous for 2011-12 or subsequent years and take appropriate corrective action.
SED officials generally agreed with the audit’s recommendations and indicated that certain actions have been and will be taken to address them.
For a copy of the complete report visit: SAVE Act audit.