The District's school system does not keep adequate records on crimes and other serious incidents that occur on school grounds, according to a report by the city's inspector general.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, states and the District are required to use data on violence to identify "persistently dangerous" schools and give students in those schools a chance to transfer. Another federal law, the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, requires states and the District to report the number of students expelled each year for carrying a firearm to school.
Despite those requirements, an audit by the inspector general's office concluded that the schools lack a comprehensive system to record and track incidents from the time they occur to the completion of investigations by police and school security officers. In addition, the reporting of serious incidents is hampered by school security policies that are inconsistent or unclear, according to the audit.
The audit involved 1,709 serious incidents that were reported from September 2002 to June 2003 and recorded in a database maintained by MVM Inc., a contractor that managed school security at the time. Most of the 1,709 incidents reviewed fell into five categories: 464 weapons offenses, 398 assaults, 306 instances of corporal punishment, 191 thefts and 153 reports of threats.
Auditors reviewed a random sample -- 119 of the 1,709 incidents -- and examined how the incidents were handled and recorded. Nearly half of the incidents were listed as "pending" as of the end of 2003, months after they were first reported. About a quarter of the incidents were not reported to the city's police or fire departments, as the school system's policies require. In two-thirds of the cases, parents were not notified, again contrary to school policies.
Most notably, the auditors found that "there is no central repository, automated or manual" within the school system to keep track of the final outcome of incidents. The poor record-keeping could have financial costs because it has caused the school system "to lose cases in court and in arbitration," the auditors found, citing education officials whom they interviewed.
The report concluded that "fragmentary security policies and procedures" have prevented the school system from determining whether investigations into the incidents are open or closed. As a result, the report stated, the schools "may not be able to reliably comply" with the two federal acts.
In a response dated Aug. 31, the interim superintendent of schools, Robert C. Rice, agreed with the report's major findings and pledged to establish clearer security policies by mid-October. The policies will require the assistant superintendents who oversee schools on a daily basis to notify the security division about the outcomes of incidents.
Rice noted, however, that the primary responsibility for school security is being transferred from the school system to the police department under a law that took effect last month.
The audit was conducted by William J. DiVello, assistant inspector general for audits, and overseen by Austin A. Andersen, interim inspector general. The audit was completed and released to the public Tuesday. Some of the audit's findings were reported yesterday in the Washington Times.