Reclassed Incidents Leave Fulton School ‘Potentially Dangerous’

FULTON, NY – School violence that went unreported or misclassified at Fulton Junior High School as revealed by a New York State Comptroller’s audit has classed the district’s only public middle school as a potentially persistently dangerous school.

Fullscreen capture 1182015 93043 PM“The risk that schools with unsafe learning environments will not be identified as such raises concerns that school problems will continue unaddressed, parents will not be notified of school choice option, and the learning environment will suffer,” the comptroller’s report Compliance With the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act stated.

The comptroller’s office audited reports from seven schools outside New York City, including Fulton’s middle school, and covered incidents recorded from July 1, 2011 to June 16, 2014.

“Based on our calculations, the Schools Violence Index (SVI) for two schools – Burgard and Fulton Junior High School in Oswego (sic) – was above the threshold for The State Education Department consideration as potentially persistently dangerous or persistently dangerous,” the comptroller’s auditors said.

The most serious of the 96 under-reported or misclassified incidents at Fulton’s Junior High School were five incidents classified as either ‘forcible sex offenses’ or ‘other sex offenses’.

While students and specific information to each reported incident are not named in the report, it identified two incidents as ‘forcible sex offenses’ where the district had reported zero, and four ‘other sex offenses’ where the district had reported one.

The State Education Department’s definitions of all violent and disruptive incidents can be found in its glossary here.

Faulting the State Education Department for its own missteps, the report also stated, “the SED did not designate persistently dangerous schools for the 2013-14 school year, despite the SAVE Act requirement that it do so annually. Further, by not designating these schools, the Department failed to comply with its own Regulations as well as 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.”

The SVI is a ratio of recorded violent incidents on school grounds or during school sanctioned events set against enrollment on a given day in October.

In the ratio, added weight is given to more serious incidents.

A school may be designated persistently dangerous if for two consecutive years it has either a SVI of 1.5 or greater, or a SVI of 0.5 or greater and 60 or more violent incidents.

According to the audit data, the Fulton Junior High School revised SVI for 2011-2012 was 1.49; and of the 368 incidents recorded by auditors, 133 were classified as “other disruptive incidents”; and 72 as “minor altercations.”

The remaining 163 incidents ranged from forcible sex offenses to assault and criminal mischief, but it was unclear from the report what categories of incident would be considered as violent to determine where Fulton stands as a potentially persistently dangerous school.

Schools that meet the threshold for one year are considered potentially persistently dangerous and the SED publishes incident data and the annual list of persistently dangerous schools on its website, including schools new to the list that year as well as schools carried over from the prior year.

To be removed from the list, schools must demonstrate they are under the SED’s designated threshold of persistently or potentially persistently dangerous for two consecutive years.

The auditor’s report noted that while two of the seven schools did have specific or limited guidance correlating the district’s disciplinary codes with violence reporting, “the materials we reviewed for the remaining five schools (including Fulton) did not mention Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports (VADIR) or how to assess and report incidents to comply with the SAVE Act.”

In her response to the comptroller’s report, State Education Department Performance Improvement and Management Services Deputy Commission Sharon Cates-Williams offered five recommendations for the seven schools audited, including this recommendation specifically for Fulton:

“For Burgard and Fulton, review the incident records for the 2011-12 school year and other years as applicable; determine if either school should have been designated persistently dangerous for the 2011-12 or subsequent years; and take appropriate corrective action.
We share Office of the State Comptroller’s concern about the validity of the data reporting for Burgard and Fulton. The Department has begun to review incident records for the 2011-12 school year for both Burgard Vocational High School and Fulton Junior High School and will conduct on-site visits at both schools in the fall of 2014 to review current reporting procedures and provide technical assistance, as needed. The Department will also review incident data for subsequent school years where applicable and initiate corrective action as needed. We look forward to working with OSC to secure additional resources in next year’s State Budget in an effort to provide further technical assistance to districts.”

The deputy commissioner also recommended the schools conduct and document a risk assessment related to compliance with SAVE Act and VADIR requirements; improve and enhance training methods; and revisit the existing VADIR guidance available to schools.

Cates-Williams also recommended the SED comply with its existing regulations requiring it 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; and report annual VADIR results to the Governor, the Legislature and the Board of Regents.

Click here for the Fulton City School District’s response to the auditors’ report.