NEW YORK – The school year is already under way in some states, but a big question still lingers among some parents.
“How safe is my child’s school?"
Under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (search), which passed into law last year, every school district that receives federal money must make a list of schools that are persistently dangerous so parents can transfer their kids to a different school.
But the standards for determining a dangerous school are set by the states and most states are claiming they have few, if any, dangerous schools. That has some critics wondering if schools are being completely honest.
“Even the best of school administrators is going to think twice before reporting each and every school crime so they don't get the label of being persistently dangerous,” said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services (search) in Cleveland, Ohio.
California, Florida and Massachusetts, for instance, all claimed not to have a single “persistently dangerous” school in the last school year. According to New York's Education Department, only two of the 1,200 schools in New York City are dangerous. In New Jersey, seven schools out of 2,362 earned a "persistently dangerous" designation.
Some argue that their honesty has put them on a list of unsafe schools even though they don't belong there.
Rural Gloucester County's Herma S. Simmons Elementary School (search) was named one of New Jersey's “persistently dangerous schools” while none of the inner city schools in Newark were cited.
The state Department of Education's criteria for landing a school on the list includes whether it had seven or more firearm offenses, aggravated student or staff assaults or other weapons charges over three years. The department also has a complicated formula for calculating other offenses from gang activity to bullying based on the population of the school.
Tracy Moore has two daughters who attend Herma S. Simmons. She said it’s not a dangerous school and shouldn’t be on the list.
”From my understanding, we reported everything, from two five-year-olds bickering in the playground to a sixth grader hitting another sixth grader," said Moore, who is head of the school’s parent-teacher association.
Other school districts in New Jersey have been criticized by local administrators for failing to report crime out of fear of being put on the list. Schools on the list must provide additional security and submit corrective action plans to the state as first steps to getting off it.
”Our only mistake is being honest and reporting everything,” Moore said.
Trump said states reporting rules make it easy for school districts to avoid being marked as unsafe, undermining the No Child Left Behind Act and making schools increasingly dangerous. He said sugarcoating problems instead of fixing them is being done for the sake of appearances.
“States are setting the criteria extremely high for their political convenience and that of the local school districts to avoid adverse publicity in the school community,” Trump said.
David Driscoll, Massachusetts’ commissioner of education, disputes the claims that states are setting reporting criteria too high, and said only the most volatile schools should be included on the list.
“I think we set the criteria right, which is, if someone is going to be labeled 'persistently dangerous' then they have to have major, major incidents,” he said.
Fox News' Rebecca Gomez contributed to this report.