Before legislatures can address the full extent of current school violence problems, they must have clear, up-to-date statistical data. Therefore, laws have been developed to ensure timely, accurate reporting of school-based crime. Federal law encourages states to focus on gathering accurate information on school crime. The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1994 requires the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to collect data to determine the frequency, seriousness, and incidence of violence in elementary and secondary schools across the country.7 To receive federal funding under the Act for distribution to local school violence reduction and prevention programs, a state must submit the results of a needs assessment for such programs, including data on the prevalence of violence by youth in schools and communities.8 In addition, states applying for funding must agree to assist the Secretary of Education in a biennial evaluation of the national impact of programs that receive financial assistance.9
Compiling reliable statistics related to school violence is useful in many ways. Collecting school crime data can alert school administrators to potentially dangerous trends and to particular students who are at risk. Schools with comparatively high crime rates may seek to improve their ranking by implementing antiviolence programs and policies. Statistical information can also provide schools with the necessary evidence to support a claim for additional resource allocations.
According to the Annual Report on School Safety: 1998, produced by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, about half of the states collect some type of school crime statistics.10 To comply with the requirements to receive federal funding under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, several states have passed laws requiring reporting of crimes and/or violent incidents.11 The scope of these laws varies widely from state to state. Some state laws, such as those in Delaware and South Carolina, are fairly comprehensive and provide detailed procedures for filing incident reports.12 Other state statutes simply require that incidents be reported, delegating the development of forms and procedures to the state board of education.13
Generally, state reporting laws provide guidance as to the types of acts or behavior that must be reported. Some states list specific reportable offenses.14 Others, like Kansas and Minnesota, require reporting of all felonies, misdemeanors, and incidents involving firearms or dangerous weapons.15 Several reporting laws cover incidents occurring at school-sponsored functions, on school buses, or on the way to or from school.16
Some states have developed standardized forms to be used by schools for reporting purposes.17 Uniform reporting forms lead to more accurate reporting and make it easier to compare data from different schools. For example, in Minnesota, forms may include information such as a description of the incident; time, place, and surrounding circumstances; information about the offender and the victim (other than their names); cost to the school and the victim; and action taken by school administration in response to the incident.18
Several states designate a reporting chain. For example, in Georgia, teachers and/or other school employees inform their school principal of a reportable incident.19 Typically, the principal then notifies the school district superintendent. In Alabama, the principals report must be filed within 72 hours.20 Finally, the superintendent files a report with the state board of education and, in some states, with local law enforcement.
School violence statistics are often used to promote public awareness and inform parents and students of the safety status of their schools. In Alabama, annual accountability reports prepared by local boards of education must include a School Safety and Discipline Report with statistical information on each school.21 These reports, which are released to the media and distributed to parent organizations, are available to the public on request. Michigan requires every school board to provide a copy of its most recent report to the parent or guardian of each student annually.22 Each year, New Jersey school superintendents must report all acts of violence and vandalism to the local board of education at a public meeting.23 Statistical reports compiled by the Department of Education in Virginia are also open to public inspection.24
Annual school crime reports are presented to legislatures in numerous states.25 These statistics help lawmakers target schools that have the greatest need for funding and intervention. Once the scope of a problem is determined, legislators can better focus on the most appropriate ways to respond on both state and local levels.
Whereas statistical reporting helps in the development of long-term solutions to school violence, laws that mandate the timely reporting of school crime to law enforcement can have a more immediate benefit by helping to restore school safety. Although school districts in South Carolina are only required to report school-related crime to their State Department of Education on a quarterly basis, school administrators must contact law enforcement authorities immediately upon notice that a person is engaging or has engaged in activities on school property or at a school sanctioned or sponsored activity that may result or results in injury or serious threat of injury to the person or to another person or his property.26
Several states have passed laws that require school officials to report at least certain types of offenses to local police authorities.27 For example, Illinois principals must report acts of intimidation and attacks on school personnel in addition to other crimes committed by students.28 Nebraska school administrators must notify law enforcement agencies of any act by a student that violates the Nebraska Criminal Code.29 Police in Texas must be informed of specified criminal activities, including terroristic threats, deadly conduct, and possession of weapons, when the activities are committed on school grounds.30 The list of specific reportable incidents in Virginias reporting law is even more inclusive.31
Several states have incorporated enforcement mechanisms into these reporting laws. Failure to report violent incidents to a law enforcement agency is a criminal offenseusually a misdemeanorin several states.32 Legislating immunity from liability for good faith reporting may also encourage compliance.33 In South Carolina, for example, a person affiliated with a school in an official capacity is granted immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability when making a report of school-related crime in good faith, to the extent that the exposure to criminal prosecution or civil liability arises from the same report of school-related crime.34
Employment protection is provided for school employees in New Jersey who report school violence as required by state law: It shall be unlawful for any board of education to discharge or in any manner discriminate against a school employee as to his employment because the employee had filed a report. Any employee discriminated against shall be restored to his employment and shall be compensated by the board of education for any loss of wages arising out of the discrimination.35
Just as states require school officials to report crimes to law enforcement agencies, law enforcement officials are often mandated to notify school districts of the arrest or conviction of a school employee or adjudication of an enrolled student.36 California police must provide immediate notice in writing or by telephone to the superintendent of schools or to private school authorities where a teacher is employed about the teachers arrest for any listed sex offense.37 In Florida, when a school district employee is arrested for a felony, the arresting law enforcement agency must inform the school superintendent of the arrest within 48 hours.38 In Utah, when a school employee is arrested for certain offenses, including drug and sexual offenses, immediate notification is provided to the administrator of teacher certification in the State Office of Education and to the superintendent of the employing school district.39 In several other states, conviction of the school employee is necessary to trigger mandatory notification of the affected school district.40
Similar procedures for notification apply when a student commits a crime, although privacy concerns must be addressed when a minor is involved. In Maryland, if a child who is enrolled in a public school is arrested for a reportable offense, the arresting agency must notify the school superintendent within 24 hours.41 Prosecutors in that state must also inform the superintendent of the final disposition of the case. The information obtained by the superintendent is confidential and may only be used to provide appropriate educational programming and related services to the child and to maintain a safe and secure school environment for students and school personnel.42 Records concerning a students adjudication received by schools in Kentucky must be kept in a locked file, when not in use, to be opened only on permission of the administrator.43 In both of these states and in Montana, the information is not to be included in the childs permanent record.44
Missouri, like several other states, has a statutory policy to report acts of school violence to teachers and other school district employees with a need to know.45 Under Kentucky law, notice of a students adjudication shall be released by the principal to employees of the school having responsibility for classroom instruction of the child,46 and notice may be released to other school employees with whom the student may come in contact. Otherwise, the information is confidential and cannot be shared by school personnel with any other person or agency.
These laws promote violence prevention in schools by warning teachers and other school personnel about potentially dangerous students.
Reciprocal reporting between school personnel and criminal justice officials is so instrumental in dealing with school violence that several states have enacted legislation encouraging interagency cooperation. Iowa law promotes sharing information between schools and criminal justice agencies through interagency agreements. The stated goal for entering into such agreements is to reduce juvenile crime by promoting cooperation and collaboration and the sharing of appropriate information between the parties in a joint effort to improve school safety.48 These agreements permit the release of information contained in a students permanent school record to the Department of Human Services, juvenile courts, and local law enforcement authorities. Although school districts in Montana may also disclose personally identifiable information from a students education record to the youth court or law enforcement authorities without parental consent, the agency receiving the information must provide written certification to the school district that the information will not be disclosed to any other person without the prior consent of the childs parent or guardian.49
Opening lines of communication also promotes the interactive dialogue needed to clarify each partys responsibilities when school violence does occur. In Florida, each school district [must] enter into an agreement with the county sheriffs office or local police department [to ensure] that felonies and violent misdemeanors . . . are reported to law enforcement.50 All schools in Pennsylvania are required to draft a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement that sets forth procedures to follow when an act of violence or weapon possession offense is committed.51