Kentucky schools getting safer, report states

Policy Violations have declined more than 20% since '05

jwarren@herald-leader.comApril 5, 2011 

Kentucky's public schools are getting safer, a report released Monday suggests.

The 11th annual Kentucky Safe Schools Data Project, compiled by the Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Center for School Safety, reviewed levels of disciplinary actions against students for violating school-board policies and certain criminal laws as indicators of overall safety in public schools.

According to the report, student disciplinary actions for school board policy violations fell from 80,481 in the 2005-06 school year to 62,917 in 2009-10, a decline of more than 20 percent.

Policy violations included fighting, disturbing class, defying authority, making threats or inappropriate sexual behavior.

The fall in policy-related disciplinary measures is "particularly encouraging" because it represents five straight years of decline, the report said.

The annual survey also shows that disciplinary actions against students for "Part 1 law violations" totaled 225 in 2005-06, then rose slightly during the next three years before returning to 225 in 2009-10. Those include robbery, aggressive assault, larceny and vehicle theft, the report says.

Jon Akers, executive director of the Richmond-based Kentucky Center for School Safety, said the generally promising numbers reflect years of effort by Kentucky educators to make schools safer.

"We are having problems, but they are fewer than we were experiencing five or 10 years ago," Akers said. "There's been a major emphasis in Kentucky school districts for the last 11 years to look at issues affecting violations ... and I think the improvement is attributable to all the hard work that people have done to keep school safety issues on the front burner."

The report says everyone should be concerned about school safety because "students and teachers cannot be expected to perform at higher levels when they feel unsafe at school."

Akers noted that students who get into trouble represent a minority of the total student population in public schools. According to Monday's report, 40,721 Kentucky public school students committed violations serious enough to warrant suspension or expulsion during the 2009-10 school year, representing just over 6.3 percent of the 644,963 students attending public school in the state that year.

"Basically 94 percent of the kids are non-offenders," Akers said. "But unfortunately, the other 6 percent get 90 percent of the press."

Whites, which made up about 82.5 percent of the total student population, accounted for 68.6 percent of the violators in 2009-10, the report says. Black, non-Hispanic students, while making up about 10.6 percent of the student population, accounted for 25.7 percent of offenders.

Family income was an apparent factor. Students who qualified for free or reduced-price school lunches accounted for more than 81 percent of disciplinary actions in 2009-10, according to the report.

Akers, a former teacher and principal in Fayette County, said the survey is intended to "stimulate discussion" on safety at school and district levels.

"If my school's figures are above district or state level, then I have a bunch of red flags before me," he said. "What can I do to make things better?"

You can view the complete report at Kysafeschools.org.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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