“Persistently Dangerous Schools”

“It is the Scarlet Letter of the education community,” said Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, in describing the “persistently dangerous school” component of the No Child Left Behind law. The law allows parents to transfer students if schools are determined to be “persistently dangerous” based on definitions created by each individual state.

However, Trump says that the law has potential unintended consequences which could include:

  • To avoid creating a politically dangerous relationship with local districts, state education officials may feel pressured to create definitions of “persistently dangerous” in a manner that local schools will likely never meet or, on the other extreme, create definitions that are rigid and impractical. Eventually, legal challenges could arise since each state is creating their own definitions and what is considered “persistently dangerous” in one state may be nowhere near what is considered “persistently dangerous” in another state;
  • Since being labeled as “persistently dangerous” has serious political and administrative implications for local school administrators, principals will be pressured to underreport and/or non-report school crime and violence;
  • While keeping their statistics of school crime down to avoid the “persistently dangerous” label, school officials may simultaneously reduce their opportunities for obtaining grants funding for school violence prevention programs since the absence of data will prohibit them from demonstrating a need for such programs;
  • The intense focus on meeting academic standards to comply with the No Child Left Behind law could result in some school officials transferring both funding and their priority attention away from safety programs to a “tunnel vision” focus exclusively on academics. The ‘persistently dangerous’ component of NCLB has no funding to help schools identified as such to improve their school safety programs, while federal and state budgets continue to cut school safety funds that could be used to help prevent schools from becoming ‘persistently dangerous’ in the first place.

Surveys of our nation’s school-based police officers conducted by National School Safety and Security Services consistently indicate that school crimes are already underreported to law enforcement. In fact, in four annual surveys of hundreds of school-based police officers per year, our surveys have found the following percentages of officers stating that school crimes nationwide are underreported to law enforcement:

  • 2004 survey: 86%
  • 2003 survey: 87%
  • 2002 survey: 89%
  • 2001 survey: 84%

(Also see our web page on school crime underreporting.)

These factors could actually contribute to increased violence and crime, additional discipline problems, fewer funded school safety and violence prevention programs, and increased liability for operating less safe schools. In the end, the law that looks good on paper may end up creating less safe, instead of more safe, schools.

“At best, it is well intended legislation being lost in the politics of implementation. No principal wants his or her school being slapped with the label of being ‘persistently dangerous’ and each time that administrator considers reporting an incident of crime or violence in the future, you can be assured that principal will think twice before adding one more incident to a list which could push that school closer to being called ‘persistently dangerous’,” Trump said.

Potential ways in which NCLB’s “Persistently Dangerous School” component could create less safe schools:

  1. States create unattainable definition
  2. States create unrealistic definition
  3. Eventual legal challenge to differing definitions across various states
  4. Underreporting/non-reporting of school crime
  5. Schools unable to demonstrate documented need for safety funding due to underreporting
  6. Transfer of funds from safety to academics within districts to meet academic standards of NCLB
  7. “Tunnel vision” focus on academics takes priority focus and funding away from safety
  8. Increased crime, violence, discipline problems, and liability