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Audit finds schools failed to report violence, disruption

Castleton, which is a smaller school housed inside

Castleton, which is a smaller school housed inside an Oceanside school, seen Jan. 13, 2015, was among several named in a state audit for not reporting many cases of violent and disruptive incidents. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A state audit of seven schools across New York -- including one in Nassau County -- found that they failed to report hundreds of incidents of violence or disruption on campus in the 2011-12 school year.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, in a report issued Tuesday, said Oceanside High School at Castleton neglected to note three minor altercations, four incidents of intimidation, harassment, threatening or bullying, one incident of burglary and one of criminal mischief.

The district overreported "other disruptive incidents," saying it had three when DiNapoli's office identified only one, he found.

The school, an alternative campus, serves about 50 students, according to state records.

Superintendent Phyllis Harrington said she agrees with the comptroller's findings and already has fixed the problem.

"Since that time . . . procedures were put in place to improve the overall reporting system," she said.

Castleton reported a total of eight incidents. The omitted items included the use of inappropriate language toward staff, the threatening of the principal, the use of racial remarks and the stealing of keys from a staff person.

The State Education Department, which collects school violence statistics, has agreed to do a better job in gathering the information, DiNapoli said.

It also pledged to improve its enforcement of the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act, adopted in July 2000.

In an effort to comply, the department created the Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, along with a means by which to gather annual data from every school in the state on the topic.

Though the department uses that information to calculate a School Violence Index for each campus, the data are incomplete, the audit found.

"Because the department relies on this information to identify persistently dangerous schools and to help them improve school safety, inaccurate data compromises the effectiveness of these efforts," DiNapoli noted.

The comptroller said the department did not identify persistently dangerous schools for the 2013-14 school year. As a result, it failed to comply with a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which requires schools to notify parents of a campus' danger, allowing children to transfer.

The comptroller counted 935 unreported incidents for the 2011-12 school year at six schools -- 29 percent of the 3,175 reportable incidents identified. He was unable to fully assess a Buffalo school because the campus incorrectly recorded the information.

The report also found that 82 incidents were not properly classified, often moved erroneously to less serious categories.

According to DiNapoli, East High School in Rochester reported 256 incidents when it should have noted 769, "including two sex offenses that involved inappropriate sexual contact and 11 unreported weapons possession incidents."

In another case, Schenectady High School failed to report 290 of 1,824 incidents identified by auditors, including an arson.

A spokesman for the auditor said the comptroller "chose to look at schools of various sizes and locations." The audits included one junior high school in upstate Oswego.

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