Schools' Security Division Scrutinized

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Prince George's County school system is investigating whether its security department is accurately reporting the crime and disciplinary actions that occur in its schools, Board of Education members said.

The system's internal affairs unit is conducting an audit to determine whether statistics tracking incidents involving fighting, weapons, drugs and other offenses are being reported accurately. Investigators are also examining a situation in which the director of security services, Russell P. Tedesco, works in the same department as his wife.

In the 2005-06 school year, Prince George's led Maryland's 24 jurisdictions in suspensions, with more than 22,000, according to a report by the Maryland State Department of Education. For the same period, the school security office filed 1,679 security reports.

Many students were suspended for disciplinary matters not serious enough to warrant a security report. But even in serious incidents, the number of security reports lagged behind the number of suspensions.

The school system suspended 158 students for arson, fire and explosives violations in the 2005-06 school year, and the security office filed 13 such reports. The system suspended 148 students for sex offenses; the security office filed 20 reports. The system suspended 492 students for taking guns, knives and other weapons to school; the security office filed 311 reports.

R. Owen Johnson Jr., chairman of the school board, said the audit is part of a checkup of the 131,000-student system and that audits will also be performed in human resources, transportation and other departments.

"It's not a witch hunt; it's a fact-finding mission," Johnson said. He said he hopes the current audit will make information about school security, such as the number of disciplinary incidents in a particular school, easier for parents to access.

"We haven't done as good a job as we could have at providing information to the public and collecting data," Johnson said.

Under the No Child Left Behind mandate, school systems are required to report data on suspensions, expulsions and other disciplinary actions to the state. Any school deemed to be persistently dangerous under the federal law must give its students the option to transfer.

Johnson and other board members did not say that the security office provided inaccurate data. But there are discrepancies between the number of suspensions the Prince George's school system issues and the number of reports filed by the security office.

Much of the difference can be explained: More than 9,000 of the suspensions were for incidents involving disrespect, insubordination and disruption -- relatively minor problems typically handled by principals and staff members -- and more than 6,000 were classified as "other."

Principals handle other matters that do not require an investigation. The security office, which has the authority to make arrests, is called to address potentially criminal cases -- fires, major fights, sex offenses or weapons, drugs or alcohol at a school. Each report it files might involve more than one student.

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