The Examiner

State Comptroller’s Violence Report Irks P’ville School Officials

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Pleasantville High School was cited last week by the state comptroller’s office for failing to report cases of violence and bullying, but school officials countered that the audit failed to tell the full story.

The high school was randomly selected out of 4,500 public schools in New York state to be one of seven school in which an audit was performed to ascertain how the state Education Department (SED) is implementing the Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting System (VADIR).

VADIR was implemented as part of the state Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act, which requires SED and school districts to provide safe learning environments for students from pre-K through 12th grade. Under the SAVE Act, public schools must keep records of all violent or disruptive behavior that occurs on school grounds. Incidents are given a numbered score based on the seriousness of the offense.

According to the Jan. 13 comptroller’s audit, Pleasantville failed to report 20 out of 36 cases during the 2011-12 school year. The incidents should have been entered into the VADIR system but weren’t, the report stated.

A published report last Tuesday carried a headline stating that the school underreported violence, but Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter said the matter has been blown out of proportion.

“Sometimes some news media outlets capture the big, splashy pieces instead of the detail,” she said at the Jan. 13 board of education meeting.

Fox-Alter said the incidents that went unreported were minor infractions that carried a violence score of zero on the School Violence Index and, therefore, did not affect Pleasantville High School’s overall score.

Among the incidents that the audit claims should have been reported are the spraying of a water bottle by a student, the use of a cell phone during class and a student failing to comply with a teacher’s request during instructional time.

“Even though they said we should have reported it because it was a disruptive incident, it still had a score of zero…so at the end of the day the high school has the best score you can have,” Fox-Alter said. “I can’t picture any public high school in the state of New York that wouldn’t have similar incidents to this.”

“We’ve had unfortunate water and cell phone incidents at board meetings,” added Trustee Louis Conte in effort to point out the absurdity of classifying any of these incidents as violent and disruptive.

Before and after the audit, the School Violence Index, identified by VADIR, remained at zero for the high school. School officials, however, believe that the categories listed in the VADIR reporting system are vague while SED guidelines governing the reporting system are poor.

“I think one of the key pieces…is that the state needs to provide more information regarding the guidelines as to what needs to be put in these reports before putting out [their own] reports,” said Trustee Angela Vella.

Vella said the current guidelines are subjective as to what incidents need to be included in the VADIR reports, which helped explained why the district decided against reporting certain incidents. Board President Shane McGaffey noted that the comptroller’s report stated that calls to SED from school districts seeking guidance and verification of VADIR guidelines often went unanswered.

The report from DiNapoli’s office recommended a series of changes that could be made to improve the current system of determining school safety, including SED conducting a risk assessment to determine ways in which safety could be improved.

A statement released by district said that officials agreed with a recommendation from the comptroller’s office that the state should provide more assistance to schools in identifying incidents that need to be reported under VADIR.

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