Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Greenville News article outlined differences in criminal charges reported by law enforcement and student disciplinary actions reported by schools for the State’s Persistently Dangerous Schools Report.  It is important to first point out that public schools are safe!  In fact, according to the United States Department of Justice statistics, school is the safest place for young people. Our parents agree with 92% stating that their child feels safe at school.

Reporting possible criminal violations is a responsibility taken seriously by GCS.  Any failure to report by an employee results in severe consequences including possible termination of employment.  Below are several reasons for the differences in reports for criminal charges and student disciplinary actions:

  • Criminal charges and student disciplinary infractions are separate, have different purposes, are based on different standards and training, and are determined by employees of different organizations: law enforcement for criminal charges and school personnel for student discipline.
  • The Persistently Dangerous Schools Report lists seven criminal offenses.  However, the report is not pulled from criminal records, but is extracted by the State from disciplinary infractions coded by teachers, bus drivers, and other school personnel into the electronic Student Disciplinary System.  Each infraction is coded based on the school staff member’s judgment and perspective, personal experience with the students involved, and understanding of the disciplinary incident when it occurred. School personnel choose from 108 disciplinary categories that include multiple severity levels. For example, there are 36 possible infractions that include the word assault in its category name.
  • Students are disciplined per the Behavior Code and all student offenses are recorded in the Student Disciplinary System.  For serious offenses, students are suspended and recommended for expulsion and law enforcement is contacted, resulting in separate criminal investigations and possible charges.  The need for separate criminal and school investigations and resulting actions was recently stressed by the State School Safety Committee that was established following an incident involving a school resource officer and student in Columbia. 

Not to be overlooked in any discussion about school safety are the many and varied efforts to keep our schools safe.  Safety protocols include locking exterior doors as standard practice (partial lockdown), safety drills on an ongoing basis, security cameras and alarm systems, and secure school entries that require school staff to grant access to visitors to enter the building holding area. In addition, all high and middle schools are staffed with at least one full-time school resource officer, and law enforcement officers (zone patrols) visit and check all other schools multiple times each day including unannounced inspections. Also, school administrators, front office personnel and other school personnel participate in safety training including crisis de-escalation and conflict resolution.

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