Friday, August 8, 2003

By Ohio's definition, schools not so dangerous

By Jennifer Mrozowski and Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - A report released Thursday says no Ohio school qualifies as persistently dangerous under new state and federal guidelines.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to have a policy to identify persistently dangerous schools and allow any student who is a victim of a violent criminal offense - and all students who attend a school designated persistently dangerous - the right to transfer to another school within the district.

"Ohio's school districts work hard to ensure that students are in safe and supportive learning environments," Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman said. "Our charge through No Child Left Behind was to identify school environments that are persistently dangerous, and we have found none."

That was good news, although somewhat surprising to local educators.

"Statewide, that seems sort of shocking," said Joni Copas, spokeswoman for the Hamilton City School District. "I guess it just depends on the criteria that they used."

Ohio's persistently dangerous policy, adopted by the State Board of Education, states that a school will be designated persistently dangerous if it meets or exceeds a set number of incidents of adjudicated violent criminal offenses occurring on school grounds or weapon-related incidents in a school that resulted in students being removed from school.

The number of offenses has to meet or exceed the threshold two years in a row.

Ohio is not alone in having no dangerous schools.

"The (federal) law provides a lot of flexibility for the states to establish a policy and definition that reflects their priorities," said Daniel Langan, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.

The number of schools listed as persistently dangerous and the definitions vary from state to state, he said. Langan said the federal government expects to have a comprehensive list of states' persistently dangerous schools in September.

Jason Pierce, researcher on No Child Left Behind for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, said, "Some states seem to be setting up a fairly high bar for what constitutes persistently dangerous."

The Ohio Department of Education has been directed by the state board to develop school safety guidelines addressing significant school safety issues including bullying, intimidation and violence.

Some districts already have programs in place to promote safety and reduce discipline problems.

Sample of states

A sample of states that have released lists of persistently dangerous schools and number of schools that made the list. Not all states have released their lists.

Arkansas - 0

California - 0

Florida - 0

Georgia - 0

New Jersey - 7

Ohio - 0

Oregon - 1

Texas - 6

Washington - 0

Source: Enquirer research

The Associated Press contributed.

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