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School Violence Data Under a Cloud in Houston
By SAM DILLON The New York Times
HOUSTON, Oct. 31 It was one of the most unforgettable of schoolhouse crimes: a disabled 17-year-old student was shoved into a boys' bathroom in her wheelchair by a classmate at Yates High School here, dragged to the floor and raped. Her attacker was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Yet the Houston Independent School District did not include that rape, committed two years ago, when it came time to report the school year's campus crimes to the state as required by Texas law. And that is not the only school crime that appears to have been airbrushed from the official record.
On Oct. 3, 2000, a boy named Joseph Hamilton was "stomped and beaten" by another student in the cafeteria of Williams Middle School and was left injured on the floor, according to a school district memorandum, but the assault went unreported to Texas authorities. Last April, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in the chest by another student at Washington High School; that attack was not reported, either.
In the last four school years, the Houston district's own police, who patrol its 80 middle and high schools, have entered 3,091 assaults into a database that is shared with the Houston city police but not with the Texas Education Agency in Austin.
In the same period, the Houston district itself has listed just 761 schoolhouse assaults on its annual disciplinary summaries sent to Austin. That means that the school authorities either have not reported or have reclassified 2,330 incidents described as assaults by the district's police.
The district maintains that its reporting has been entirely proper. Those who disagree point to damage they say can be inflicted on the careers of principals who accurately report a high incidence of disciplinary problems, and to the financing sacrificed by schools that lose student population to expulsion.
School violence reports have taken on new importance since President Bush (news - web sites) made a national goal of holding schools accountable for test scores and campus crime. At his insistence, a new federal law requires states to use violence data to identify "persistently dangerous" schools, and Education Secretary Rod Paige, former schools superintendent here, is in charge of enforcing that law.
Experts say that Houston is not the only city underreporting its school crime problems. more...