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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

New York City Department of Education
Public School Safety: Incident Reporting and Unauthorized Student Departures


Issued: April 29, 2015
Link to full audit report 2014-N-1

Purpose
To determine whether New York City Department of Education (DoE) officials accurately recorded and reported violent and disruptive incidents to the State Education Department (SED); and whether the DoE had sufficient controls to prevent and address unauthorized student departures. The audit covers the period July 1, 2011 to October 17, 2014.

Background
The New York City Department of Education (DoE) is the largest school district in the country and serves about 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools. Ensuring the safety of those students, teachers, visitors, and staff is a high priority for DoE and for government policymakers. New York State’s Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (SAVE Act) requires public school districts to collect data on violent and disruptive incidents that occur on school property, report those incidents to SED, and develop safety plans, codes of conduct, and emergency response plans for each school as appropriate. In conjunction with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, SED developed a uniform incident reporting system, the Violent and Disruptive Incident Report (VADIR), that requires each public school in the State to compile records of reportable incidents and to submit an annual summary of those incidents to their district office. Each district compiles its school summaries and submits its reportable incidents to SED by September 30 of each year. SED uses this VADIR data to calculate each school’s “School Violence Index” (SVI). Schools with SVIs over certain predetermined limits are designated “Persistently Dangerous” (PD) or “Potentially Persistently Dangerous” (PPD). Officials of PD schools are required to notify parents of their option to enroll their children in another school within the district that is not designated PD.

Key Findings

  • Our review of 10 sampled schools found that DoE staff did not include over 400 reportable incidents on the related VADIRs, and many of the incidents that were reported were not correctly categorized.
  • Of the unreported incidents, 126 were in categories SED defines within VADIR guidelines as violent, including assaults with physical injury; weapons possession; sexual offenses; and reckless endangerment.
  • As a result of the misreporting, decision makers were not provided with complete and accurate incident information; schools’ safety ratings may not be correct; and the necessary corrective actions might not have been taken.
  • On 184 occasions, students appear to have left the premises of nine of the sampled schools without prior authorization. In 177 (of the 184) cases, there was no documentation indicating that school staff looked for the students and/or brought them back to their assigned classrooms, or the students returned to their classrooms on their own.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure that all SAVE-reportable incidents are captured in DoE’s “Online Occurrence Reporting System” (OORS) and submitted to SED for VADIR purposes.
  • Ensure that each reportable incident is accurately categorized based on SED guidelines.
  • Implement procedures to prevent and/or immediately detect unauthorized student departures from the school buildings.
  • Ensure that appropriate actions are taken to respond to unauthorized student departures and such actions are adequately documented.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest

New York City Department of Education: Compliance With State Arts Education Requirements (2011-N-4)
New York City Department of Education: Accuracy of Reported Discharge Data (2009-N-9)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Frank Patone
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: StateGovernmentAccountability@osc.state.ny.us
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236