Many of you may have seen the following report on the Denver Post / Denver 7News on May 19, 2014: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/call7-investigators/7news-denver-post-investigation-finds-school-violence-reporting-lacks-oversight-accountability. The story focused on how many Colorado school districts inaccurately report the number of assaults and fights that they have. There is a great deal of accuracy to this claim.
The news story from the ABC News affiliate was interesting because it does touch upon a problem with respect to how Colorado schools categorize and report acts of violence. Most major school districts use a database system called Infinite Campus — also known as IC — in order to track their data with respect to things like academics, attendance and discipline. Under the IC system in many districts, school fights are categorized in one of two ways: either as an assault or as “detrimental behavior.”
Most people have a pretty decent idea of what constitutes an assault. In terms of schools, they generally refer to a violent incident as an assault when one student punches another and the second student doesn’t retaliate. If the school has an on-site police officer — known as a “School Resource Officer” or “SRO” — then that officer may also choose to ticket or even arrest the student who initiated the assault.
With respect to “detrimental behavior,” however, that is a term that is far less clear than an assault. Whenever there is a fight at a school, it often is coded in the Infinite Campus system as “detrimental behavior.” To a person who does not work in the school system, that term essentially is meaningless. All kinds of behavior that is disruptive to the school environment could be categorized is a detrimental. Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to categorize a fight as “detrimental behavior” when it should be much more accurately categorized as a “fight.”
Why schools code fights as “detrimental behavior” — and why the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) — allows them to do so is not clear. Perhaps it is simply a bad practice followed by the schools and tolerated by the CDE, or perhaps schools simply don’t want parents to get an accurate picture of the level of violence in schools. Nevertheless, parents are not served by this school practice and the CDE’s tolerance of it. Parents need as much information as possible about their children’s schools so that they can make well-informed educational decisions. Without that information, quality decision-making is not possible.
Schools need to properly report data on acts of school violence.