Back to school 2017: How safe is your school?
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) —
School safety is a top concern for everyone from parents to teachers, but how safe is your child's school?
Finding an answer to that question was decidedly more difficult before FOX 25 began looking into the data schools collect about violence in classrooms. In 2016, FOX 25 reported on the overall number of violent incidents collected from every school in Oklahoma.
School districts reported the information to the state, but the Department of Education did not keep track of changes on a district level. FOX 25 requested the individual district reports and after initially saying the request was not feasible the state provided the reports.
“Our approach is much more preventative as opposed to relying on an annual incident report,” said Robyn Miller the Deputy Superintendent for Educator Effectiveness and Policy Research.
Miller says the state is pro-active because it works to prevent violent incidents instead of reacting to when counts are high.
“It is beyond just counselors,” Miller explained, “Teachers, administrators they are hungry for information on how best to provide a safe academic environment.”
But is the training working?
The state is now compiling and publishing district-by-district reports. The education department says they are now able to look for trends in the data to see if individual targeting of districts for more training is necessary.
FOX 25 has analyzed the last available data which is for the 2015 school year. The incident reports were broken down in a fashion similar to federal crime statistics that equalizes reports based on incidents per one thousand students.
The incident reports are broken down by the type of incident. Tobacco, alcohol and other drugs are reported individually. Other incidents are broken down by category such as bullying or bringing a weapon on campus and whether those incidents resulted in an injury.
The analysis found the biggest districts are statistically among the least likely for a student to be a victim of drugs, abuse or violence.
Oklahoma City Public School districts had about 83 incidents of drugs or violence per one thousand students. Tulsa, the second largest district in the state by more than 5,000 students, reported 80 incidents per 1,000 students.
Putnam City Public Schools is the fifth largest district in the state, but had the second-highest rate of reported incidents for schools in the OKC metro. Putnam City incident reports equaled 64.95 incidents per 1,000 students.
Moore Public Schools, the fourth largest district in the state, had a rate of 27.38 incidents reported per 1,000 students. Edmond Public Schools, the third largest district in the state, reported a rate of 20.04 incidents per 1,000 students.
Rural school incidents tended to be higher in tobacco use than physical violence.
The top rate of incidents per thousand students were found in Colcord, Grandfield, Peckham, Seiling, and Avant. These five districts all reported incidents that equated to more than 200 incidents per 1,000 students.
Each of these districts have fewer than 1,000 students enrolled.
There are a variety of reasons for the higher rates. Seiling’s superintendent says some of their incident forms were incorrectly submitted.
“Our district takes all reports of bullying and fighting seriously, and we investigate them fully according to district policy,” Superintendent Randy Seifried told FOX 25. “To address these issues, we provide our students with counseling and bully awareness and prevention training. Further, we provide DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) educational programming and other activities to educate students on the harms of tobacco and drug use.”
“I believe we are trending down on the incidents of fighting and tobacco use,” said Bud Simmons, the Superintendent in Colcord. “Our administration has changed completely from 2015 and have addressed these incidents through policy revisions.”
In Avant, one of the smallest districts in the state, Superintendent Cindi Hemm told FOX 25 she was not at the district for the 2015 year. However, Hemm said “I can report for 2016-17 in which we only had 8 incidents that resulted in suspension. One of which was bullying.”
Peckham Superintendent Gary Young say their incident rate comes from them being honest and reporting every single incident as instructed. He said when students get in trouble, even for something minor it is reported to the state. He said their policy is to talk to students about proper behavior and they rarely see repeat offenses.
Accuracy and reliability in reporting is a factor in determining school safety. Until now the state has not been capable of taking a look at district-by-district reports.
The FOX 25 review found some large school districts or school locations did not report any incidents. It is statistically improbable that any district would have no students breaking any rules.
Firearm incidents are tracked separately, and those too have some room for interpretation.
State law only recently changed to make exceptions based on circumstances. For example, if a student in a rural area leaves a hunting rifle in their vehicle by accident, it isn't treated the same as someone bring a gun inside the school.