Classroom Crisis: Big disparity found in number of school incidents referred to law enforcement
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham City Schools reported over 5000 incidents to the state in 2016, but only referred two incidents to law enforcement. 10 of the incidents not referred to law enforcement involved guns, according to data found in the State Department of Education Annual School Incident Report. It is unclear why the incidents, including six handgun possessions at Jackson Olin High School, were not referred to police. WBRC submitted several email requests for comment, and asked whether parents were told about the gun incidents.
Adrienne Keel Mitchell, Strategy and Communications Officer with Birmingham City Schools, emailed a response that said they would review the data and look into issues raised by our reporting, but investigating and verifying would take some time.
Alabama law requires all school systems to track school incidents that are considered violations of the law or a serious breach of school policies. Incidents include anything from general disobedience, to threats and intimidation, to more serious violations like drugs, fighting and weapons. Systems must report the incidents to the state Department of Education, which publishes the annual report of the data.
In addition to the six incidents of handgun possesssion, data for Jackson Olin High School in Birmingham included one report of handgun use and one report of possession of firearm components. The other incidents involving guns in Birmingham Schools that were not referred to law enforcement included a report of handgun use at Parker High School and an incident of handgun possession at Arrington Middle School.
The two incidents Birmingham City Schools referred to law enforcement included one report of handgun possession at Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School and one incident of fighting at George Washington Carver High School.
While state law requires schools to compile and submit incident data to the state, the decision on whether to call law enforcement is made at the local level by individual school systems.
Guidelines provided in the State Department of Education School Incident Report Resource Guide state that an incident should be reported to law enforcement "if the School Resource Officer or some other appropriate official takes some official action on the incident such as filing a report, filing a complaint/petition, filing an affidavit or making an arrest, or if local law enforcement is called in whether an arrest is made or not."
Jefferson County Schools reported 7,857 incidents to the state in 2016, but only referred four to law enforcement. The incidents reported to law enforcement included two incidents of threats at Concord Elementary and two reports of drug possession at Pinson Valley High School.
WBRC found multiple incidents involving knives or other unspecified weapons possession and use that were not referred to law enforcement in Jefferson County Schools, including five at Minor Middle School, five at Bragg Middle School, eight at Center Point Elementary, two at Clay Chalkville High School, two at Erwin Middle School, two at Center Point High School, three at McAdory High School, three at McAdory Middle School, two at Minor High School, three at Pinson Valley High School, two at Pleasant Grove High School and two at Rudd Middle School.
WBRC contacted Jefferson County Schools and requested an interview with the Superintendent last week. A spokesperson respond through email today and said the system was working on a response with the Student Services Department.
Hoover Schools had one of the highest rates of incident referrals to law enforcement. In 2016, Hoover Schools reported 322 overall incidents, and 112 were referred to law enforcement. Those include incidents of alcohol use, possession and use of drugs, fighting and harrassment at Spain Park High School and incidents of drug possession and vandalism at Hoover High School, as well as two incidents of knife possession at Hoover High School.
Jason Gaston, Media Relations Manager for Hoover School, said the system follows Hoover City Schools Code of Conduct for elevating certain incidents to law enforcement, which includes a detailed threat assessment protocol for school administrators and law enforcement. Once the threat assessment is complete, the code states that school officials will follow standard procedures for student and discipline and notifying parents and "will cooperate with law enforcement and diligently seek criminal prosecution for any incident involving threats of violence."
Polices on whether or not a school incident prompts administrators to contact law enforcement varies from system to system, but the Incident Report Resource Guide issued by the state provides some guidance. It stipulates that incidents should include offenses that represent a violation of the law or a serious breach of local board of education policies. "Incidents are those offenses considered severe enough to consider one of the following: report to law enforcement officials, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, placement in an alternative program, placement in an interim educational setting for special education only, removal by hearing officer due to possibility of injury to self or others for special education only, corporal punishment or in-school suspension."
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