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Addressing Safety Reporting Deficiencies on

Colorado’s School Accountability Report

by Kirstin Hasler, Research Associate and

Pamela Benigno, Director, Education Policy Center

February 2006

13952 Denver West Parkway • Suite 400 • Golden, Colorado 80401-3141 • 303-279-6536 • 303-279-4176 fax
Executive Summary police charges but did not meet the criteria to be
The Safety and Discipline table within Colo- reported on the SAR.
rado’s School Accountability Reports (SAR)
does not provide a realistic picture of the envi- • One student at the unnamed Jeffco high
ronment in many public schools. The narrow school was attacked in the school parking lot by
criteria for an incident to be reported in the ta- several students. He was punched in the face
ble under Assaults/Fights do not include most and knocked to the ground. One of the students
assaults and fights that take place in schools. stomped on his head. The victim had blood
This Issue Paper examines the following in re- across his face and knuckles. Yet the incident
gard to current safety reporting: did not meet the criteria to be reported under
• According to state law, the Assaults/Fights
category in the Safety and Discipline table on • One category on the SAR—Other Violations
the SAR is restricted to incidents that occur as a of Code of Conduct—is a catch-all. The category
“commission of an act on school grounds that, if includes crimes such as third degree assaults,
committed by an adult, would be considered sexual assaults, robberies, cheating, and dress
criminal assault, other than third degree as- code violations.
sault.” First and second degree assaults are the
only type of incidents to be reported under As- Recommendations
saults/Fights and usually involve “serious bod- 1. By modifying the scope of the data collection,
ily injury.” the Colorado General Assembly should con-
sider broadening the definition of the As-
• “Serious bodily injury” means bodily injury saults/Fights category
which, either at the time of the actual injury or a) to include third degree assaults, municipal
at a later time, involves a substantial risk of assaults, and vehicular assaults;
death, a substantial risk of serious permanent b) to include disorderly conduct involving
disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted fighting as defined by state law and municipal
loss or function of any part or organ of the ordinances;
body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the sec- c) to include incidents that take place in school
ond or third degree. vehicles, and at school activities and sanctioned
• Jefferson County School District R-1 (Jeffco), d) to include assaults with a connection to the
the largest school district in the state, reported school, such as when a student is attacked on
644 Assaults/Fights for 2003-2004. After district the way home from school or attacked across
personnel discovered they were only to report the street from the school.
first and second degree assaults, the number of
Assaults/Fights on the SAR dropped to zero for 2. The General Assembly or the Colorado De-
2004-2005. partment of Education should consider
a) clearly noting on the SAR the definition of
the Assaults/Fights category;
• Police reports from one unnamed Jeffco
b) restoring the Other Felonies category to the
high school revealed that, in the 2004-2005
Safety and Discipline table and the definition of
school year, 23 incidents of fighting resulted in
the type of offenses it might include.

Page 1
Introduction ber of Assaults/Fights reported in this section in
At the end of his first year in office, in a speech the Safety and Discipline table reveals that many
titled “Putting Children First: A Plan for Safe and parents are not being provided with a realistic
Excellent Public Schools,” Colorado Governor Bill picture of a school’s environment.
Owens announced his plan for state-published
school report cards. The governor explained, School discipline is guided by local and state
“One of our most important goals in improving laws, school district policy, community expecta-
public education must be to bring parents back tions, and the personalities of the school adminis-
into the schools and back into the day to day edu- trators in authority. Differences among school
cation of their children. That is why the School districts may result in some inconsistencies in
Report Card [renamed School Accountability Re- reporting, but there is a more compelling reason
port] is a key to the plan I am laying out today. It to question whether the SAR gives an accurate
will equip parents with the knowledge they need snapshot of the learning environment within a
to make an informed decision as to which school school.
is best for their child.”1
In the spring of 2005, an investigation by the Den-
While designing the School Accountability Report ver Post revealed a number of violent crimes
(SAR), the governor’s office held focus groups against students that were not reported on the
and found that parents’ greatest concern was for SARs.3 Though some school and district officials
their children to attend a school with a safe envi- may misreport or underreport, the likelier expla-
ronment.2 Therefore, one section of the School nation is that the assaults or fights which regu-
Accountability Report is devoted to safety and larly take place in a school cannot be counted.
school environment. They do not fit the criteria outlined in state stat-
ute to be reported to the Colorado Department of
Yet parents cannot depend on this feature to de- Education (CDE) and in turn reported to the pub-
termine how safe their children are in a particular lic on the SAR.
school. A close examination of the type and num-

Sample Safety and Discipline table from School Accountability Report, Colorado Department of Education

Page 2
Background • Assaults/Fights
In 2000, Colorado enacted two pieces of legisla- • Dangerous Weapons
tion that incorporated requirements for reporting
• Other Violations of Code of Conduct
of school safety data, Senate Bill 133 and Senate
Bill 186.
Though other actions may be taken by the school
district and reported under Number of Incidents
1. SB 133 established safe school reporting re-
Reported, only the following actions are listed on
quirements. School districts are to report to CDE
the SAR:
the number of incidents for the following catego-
ries of conduct code and discipline code viola- • In School Suspensions
tions:4 • Out of School Suspensions
• Drug Violations • Expulsions
• Alcohol Violations
Originally, Other Felonies were reported State law de-
• Tobacco Violations in the table, but the category was struck fines an incident
• Criminal Assault from the law in July 2001 to allow for a school district
• Robbery space to disaggregate Substance Abuse should report as
• Dangerous Weapons for separate drug, alcohol, and tobacco follows:
• Other Felonies violations. Educators also thought that Commission of
the Other Felonies category was not use- an act on school
• Disobedient or Defiant
ful.8 Though the data are still collected, grounds that, if
• Detrimental Behavior in 2005 CDE removed several categories committed by an
• Destruction of School Property from the Safety and Discipline table on adult, would be
• Repeated Interference the SAR. The deleted categories include considered
the number of Habitually Disruptive criminal as-
• Other Violations of Code of Conduct
Students, Incidents Referred to Law En- sault, other than
forcement, and Other (other actions third degree as-
School districts are to report the incidents listed
taken according to school board policy). sault.
above when the following actions have been
A Closer Look at the Assaults/Fights Category
• Classroom Suspension/Teacher Removal
Under SB 133, school districts are to report as-
• In School Suspension saults to CDE that result in action taken by the
• Out of School Suspension district. State law defines an incident a school dis-
• Expulsion trict should report as follows:
• Referred to Law Enforcement C.R.S. § 22-32-109.1(2)(b)(IV)(F) Commission
of an act on school grounds that, if com-
• Other Action (only extremely serious discipli-
mitted by an adult, would be considered
nary actions according to local board policy)
criminal assault, other than third degree
2. SB 186 established the SAR, detailing the for-
mat and the content of the report.5 The legislature
Third degree assaults, or the equivalent of mu-
has made changes since the original bill passed.
nicipal assault violations, are not included in the
Additionally, in 2005 CDE made changes to the
Assaults/Fights category. Neither are incidents
2004-2005 Safety and Discipline table.6 The col-
that are considered to be, or that result in charges
lected data required by SB 133 are condensed and
of, disorderly conduct involving fighting—the
reported on the SAR in the Safety and Discipline
most common type of school fight.
table, cross-referencing the categories of incidents
with the actions taken by the school district.7 The
Only first and second degree assaults, which are
following categories of incidents are listed:
felonies, comprise the data reported on the SAR
• Substance Abuse-Drugs in the Assaults/Fights category. This category
• Substance Abuse-Alcohol does not include felonies such as sexual assaults
• Substance Abuse-Tobacco or vehicular assaults.

Page 3
The SAR contains no explanation to inform the (Municipalities may have an assault
reader that the Assaults/Fights category is lim- ordinance equivalent to third degree assault.)
ited to the number of first and second degree as-
saults. The definition of Assaults/Fights can be Second Degree Assault: C.R.S. § 18-3-203
found on the Colorado School Accountability Re- A person commits the crime of assault in the
ports Web site under “Frequently Asked Ques- second degree if:
tions,” but the definition of Assaults/Fights is not (b) With intent to cause bodily injury to an-
on a school’s SAR.9 other person, he or she causes such injury
to any person by means of a deadly
Understanding Disorderly Conduct and weapon; or
Different Degrees of Assault (d) He recklessly causes serious bodily injury
To begin to understand what would be consid- to another person by means of a deadly
ered disorderly conduct involving a fight or as- weapon; or
sault, one must know several legal definitions. (g) With intent to cause bodily injury to an-
The following sections of the statutes generally other person, he causes serious bodily
apply to schools: injury to that person or another.

Bodily Injury: C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(c) First Degree Assault: C.R.S. § 18-3-202

“Bodily injury” means physical pain, illness, A person commits the crime of assault in the
or any impairment of physical or mental first degree if:
condition. (a) With intent to cause serious bodily injury
to another person, he causes serious bod-
Serious Bodily Injury: C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(p) ily injury to any person by means of a
“Serious bodily injury” means bodily injury deadly weapon; or
which, either at the time of the actual in- (b) With intent to disfigure another person
jury or at a later time, involves a substan- seriously and permanently, or to destroy,
tial risk of death, a substantial risk of seri- amputate, or disable permanently a mem-
ous permanent disfigurement, a substan- ber or organ of his body, he causes such
tial risk of protracted loss or function of an injury to any person; or
any part or organ of the body, or breaks, (c) Under circumstances manifesting extreme
fractures, or burns of the second or third indifference to the value of human life, he
degree. knowingly engages in conduct which
creates a grave risk of death to another
Disorderly Conduct: C.R.S. § 18-9-106 (1)(d) person, and thereby causes serious bodily
(1) A person commits disorderly conduct if he injury to any person…
or she intentionally, knowingly, or reck-
lessly: Municipalities often have ordinances that mirror
(d) Fights with another in a public place ex- state statutes defining third degree assault and
cept in an amateur or professional contest disorderly conduct. In the case of a repeat of-
of athletic skill. fender or when the situation appears to be more
(Municipalities may have an equivalent severe, law enforcement officers may decide to
disorderly conduct ordinance.) charge a student with third degree assault or
fight-related disorderly conduct under state law
Third Degree Assault: C.R.S. § 18-3-204 rather than under municipal ordinances. The case
A person commits the crime of assault in the then would be prosecuted in district court, where
third degree if the person knowingly or the sanctions are more severe than in municipal
recklessly causes bodily injury to another court.10
person or with criminal negligence the
person causes bodily injury to another An example of disorderly conduct would be two
person by means of a deadly weapon. students in the hallway who begin shouting at
each other, trade punches, and wrestle each other

Page 4
to the ground. If one of the students receives an that take place at a school. In fact, because of the
injury, such as a bloodied mouth, bruised face, or low number of Assaults/Fights reported and the
black eye, then the fight is classified a third de- lack of awareness most people have regarding the
gree assault. In neither case would the incident be category’s definition, some accuse school districts
reported under the Assaults/Fights category, but of deliberately not reporting fights.
rather under Other Violations of Code of Conduct
on the SAR. Until the 2004-2005 school year, Jeffco, the largest
school district in Colorado (more than 86,000 stu-
On the other hand, if one of the students’ noses dents), had reported all incidents coded as a fight
had been broken, the offender might be charged that resulted in suspensions or expulsions.13 Offi-
with second degree assault. Fights that result in a cials reported 644 Assaults/Fights on Jeffco
broken nose or other serious bodily injury as de- schools’ SARs in 2003-2004. The district’s defini-
fined by law are the type of Assaults/Fights re- tion of a fight comprised many types of incidents,
ported on the SAR. including harassment.14

Discussion Jeffco realized the error and changed its reporting

The Case to Broaden the Definition of system thereafter to include only first and second
Assaults/Fights degree assaults, in accordance with the law. Dis-
Combining the terms “assaults” and “fights” into trict schools reported no first or second
the Assaults/Fights category on the SAR has con- degree assaults in 2004-2005; therefore,
with parents
fused school districts and the public. An assault the 2004-2005 Jeffco SARs showed no
have revealed
may or may not be related to a fight. A fight is Assaults/Fights.15 Anyone unfamiliar
that many par-
usually a struggle between two or more with the criteria for reporting assaults
ents assume that
Fights that people and may not necessarily fit and fights may have believed that the Assaults/
result in a bro- within the legal definition of a first, Jeffco either saw an unprecedented Fights category
ken nose or second, or third degree assault. Limit- drop in school fights or underreported includes all as-
other serious ing the type of incident reported as an them in 2004-2005. saults or serious
bodily injury Assault/Fight to first and second de- fights that take
as defined by gree assaults compounds the confusion. The more serious question raised by place at a
law are the Jeffco’s earlier misreporting is whether school.
type of As- eliminating third degree assaults and
CDE provides to school districts a
saults/Fights fight-related disorderly conduct violations from
document titled “Safety and Discipline
reported on the Assaults/Fights category gives a comprehen-
Indicator Collection Narrative.” The
the SAR.
narrative explains how to report inci- sive view of a school’s learning environment.
dents and actions taken. CDE staff Take for example three Jeffco schools. When tally-
members are also available to answer questions. ing all suspensions and expulsions for fights be-
Still, school districts have various interpretations tween 2000 and 2004, Arvada High School re-
of what type of incidents should be reported in ported an average of 27 fights a year, Jefferson
the Assaults/Fights category. For instance, sexual High School an average of 25, and Alameda High
assaults and vehicular assaults are not specifically School an average of 24. In 2004-2005, when Jeffco
mentioned in the narrative. Jefferson County reported only first and second degree assaults to
School District R-1 (Jeffco) officials said that they CDE, as required by law, the SAR for all three
would report both under Assaults/Fights.11 The schools reported no assaults or fights.
Jeffco Student Data Services office suggests CDE
should bring together officials from every school Many parents believe that the Assaults/Fights
district to address reporting inconsistencies and category should include all assaults or fights that
to ensure that all districts are consistent.12 take place in a school. One parent removed her
daughter from a Jeffco middle school because her
Discussions with parents have revealed that daughter had been harmed by another student.
many parents assume that the Assaults/Fights The mother said fights are a daily occurrence at
category includes all assaults or serious fights the school.16

Page 5
Actual Assaults and Fights that Cannot be assault and three were charged with disorderly
Reported as Assaults/Fights on the SAR conduct, all under state law.
Before the 2004-2005 SARs were released, one
principal from an unnamed Jeffco high school Another incident at the same school during the
commented that his school had many more fights same school year resulted in municipal ordinance
in 2003-2004 than the number reported on the violations for assault and harassment. The police
SAR. The principal said he reports all fights to the report said a woman saw a female student fight-
district but did not know that district officials ing with her daughter in the school parking lot. A
only report to CDE fights that result in suspen- male student grabbed the daughter from behind
sion and expulsion. Since Jeffco now reports ac- and threw her down to the ground. The mother
cording to the law, his school’s SAR included saw the female student pull the daughter’s hair,
zero Assaults/Fights in 2004-2005. and scratch the daughter’s face and eyes, causing
injury. The police officer observed scratches and
A parent whose child attended the unnamed high bleeding on the victim’s left eyelid, a scratch on
school during the 2004-2005 school year ex- the left side of her forehead, and scratches on the
plained that only reporting first and second de- bridge of her nose and upper left cheek area.19
gree assaults gives parents a false sense of secu-
rity. Though she believes the school In the first assault incident, three of the offenders
A parent whose
child attended administrators do a good job, she did not attend the school. One of the offenders in
the unnamed also knows there are many fights at the second assault incident also did not attend the
high school dur- the school. In fact, one year her son school. An incident in which none of the offend-
ing the 2004- was assaulted after school across the ers attend the school would not be
2005 school year street from the school. Another stu- reported on the SAR because the law Most fights that
dent “jumped him,” causing minor requires a report to be based on the occur in high
explained that
injuries. 17 action taken by the school district. If schools are con-
only reporting
the offender is not a student, the dis- sidered disorderly
first and second
degree assaults An examination of the police reports trict cannot administer consequences conduct.
gives parents a of incidents on school grounds from and therefore does not report the inci-
false sense of the 2004-2005 school year for the un- dent to CDE. However, if a student is harmed by
security. named high school illustrates the an employee of a school district, the information
need to change the criteria for what is submitted to CDE under a different reporting
is reported in the Assaults/Fights category. Six- system.20
teen incidents led to students being charged with
fight-related disorderly conduct. One additional Most fights that occur in high schools are consid-
disorderly conduct incident began at school with ered disorderly conduct.21 A male student at the
an exchange of words and an agreement to fight same unnamed Jeffco high school recounted an
in the alley across the street from the school. incident in the lunch line as follows:
School administrators called for the police. Six
other incidents resulted in assault charges, three The boy came in the line and
of which included a combination of assault and pushed me because I told him to
disorderly conduct violations.18 get to the end for butting (him
and one of his friends.) I pushed
According to the police report of one particularly him back so I was like lets [sic]
appalling incident, a car pulled up beside a stu- handle this after school and he
dent walking on a school sidewalk, and eight kids said now! And he kicked me in
(three of whom were students at the school) got my groin. I pushed him off me
out and jumped him. Several of the attackers and he pushed me again and
punched his face and knocked him to the ground, kicked me on my leg and I
and then one of them stomped on his head. The caught his leg and threw him on
victim had blood across his face and knuckles. the ground. He punched me in
Three assailants were charged with third degree my face so I hit him back and

Page 6
then Mr. ___ came and broke it Several school officials have raised the concern
up.22 that students may be involved in a dispute at
school which results in violence off campus dur-
Authorities charged the student who cut in the ing or after school hours. One police report from
lunch line with a municipal disorderly conduct the unnamed Jeffco high school described a fight
violation. Therefore, the incident was not re- that began in the lunch line with an exchange of
ported in the Assaults/Fights category. words. The boys agreed to fight in the alley across
the street from the school. One boy was hit in the
Referrals to Law Enforcement head several times and had minor swelling on his
In Jeffco and many other large school districts, the face and forehead. A school administrator con-
district depends on law enforcement officers to tacted the police. Both students were charged
determine the classification of an assault.23 Yet with disorderly conduct violations.
even if the police do not file charges, a school dis-
trict can still report the incident. “The 2004-2005 The Denver Post identified several incidents of
Safety and Discipline Indicator Collection Narra- severe assaults that were not reported as assaults
tive” gives the following direction to school dis- on the SAR because they happened on the way to
tricts: “…If unsure what type of event constitutes school, not on school grounds. In one school that
which degree [of] assault, consult the reported no assaults in 2003-2004, police reports
Yet just as sub-
language of the cited state statutes, describe a student beaten by a group of five boys
stance abuse
contact the school district’s legal on his way home from school.27
violations may
counsel, local law enforcement offi-
occur on school
cials or municipal attorneys for assis- Other Violations of Code of Conduct
buses or at ath-
tance.”24 As one of the incident categories on the SAR,
letic events that
take place off Other Violations of Code of Conduct is a catch-all
school property, Several variables can influence the category.28 It includes violations of local board of
so may assaults, number of referrals to law enforce- education code of conduct that are not otherwise
robberies, and ment. Some municipalities have as- listed on the SAR. Dress code viola-
other felonies. signed police officers known as tions and cheating are included in Dress code vio-
School Resource Officers (SRO) to Other Violations of Code of Conduct, lations and
schools in their jurisdiction. A school with an along with sexual assaults, robberies, cheating are in-
SRO may have more referrals to law enforcement and third degree assaults. 29 cluded in Other
because a police officer is on the school grounds. Violations of
Otherwise, school administrators must determine Jeffco’s code of conduct includes 45 Code of Con-
when to contact law enforcement. One rural su- offenses that can result in a suspension duct, along with
perintendent explained that only two police offi- or expulsion, 40 of which fall under sexual assaults,
cers serve in the town where his school is located. Other Violations of Code of Conduct robberies, and
He explained that the district cannot call the po- on the SAR.30 Several Jeffco high third degree as-
lice every time a fight happens at the school.25 schools have hundreds of incidents saults.
reported in the Other Violations of
Assaults off School Property Code of Conduct category. An inspection of the
School districts are to report to CDE violations SAR provides no way to distinguish what the
pertaining to substance abuse and the possession individual offenses were. Nevertheless, police
of dangerous weapons for acts on school reports revealed 23 assault and fight-related dis-
grounds, in school vehicles, or at school activities orderly conduct offenses at the unnamed high
or sanctioned events. Reports of assaults, robber- school. If school administrators took action, the
ies, and other felonies are limited to acts on incidents are reported in the Other Violations of
school grounds.26 Yet just as substance abuse vio- Code of Conduct category on the SAR.
lations may occur on school buses or at athletic
events that take place off school property, so may
assaults, robberies, and other felonies.

Page 7
Examples of Misreporting reports cases to CDE as students are originally
Jeffco reported zero Assaults/Fights in 2004-2005. charged, unless the student is found not guilty of
However, an inquiry to the District Attorney’s the charge.35 CDE recommends district officials
office disclosed three second degree charges that know the facts of a case and distinguish between
resulted from incidents on school grounds: two charges made for actual behavior and charges
assaults that resulted in broken noses, and an in- reduced through plea bargains.36
stance of vehicular assault in which the victim’s
leg was broken. More Training Needed
According to discipline administrator John Peery,
Jeffco investigated these incidents and discovered Jeffco trains its principals to use its system for
why they were not reported properly to CDE. coding discipline incidents. The school district’s
One did not appear as an Assault/Fight because newly implemented Infinite Campus has im-
the principal improperly gave the offender a five- proved its capacity to classify incidents, by pro-
day suspension rather than an expulsion, leading viding a greater number of specific discipline
the incident to be reported in the wrong category. codes. Jeffco also has instituted a mid-year check
to ensure that administrators are reporting inci-
The other fight was not reported in the As- dents properly.37
saults/Fights category because the police had
originally charged the offender with a third de- Others see a need for better education of school
gree assault. The parents of the victim later con- and district personnel concerning juvenile crimi-
tacted the police when they determined their nal law. “We should educate the educa- “We should edu-
child had received a broken nose. The charge was tors every year about the current law, cate the educa-
increased to second degree assault, but according and changes to the law, that apply to tors every year
to the school district, the school did not receive them and their students,” says George about the cur-
notification of the change and thus failed to re- Mumma, an investigator for the Juve- rent law, and
port it correctly. nile Crime Unit in the Jefferson County changes to the
District Attorney’s office. “There are law, that apply
Following discussions about the vehicular assault new administrators every year, and to them and
incident, the school district admitted an over- they don’t have a clue about what’s their students.”
sight.31 One department neglected to inform an- going on.’’ Mumma said the school
other department about the incident. Even had it district has refused his office’s repeated offer to
addressed the incident properly, the district as- provide juvenile law updates and trends in the
sumes that vehicular assaults should be reported county.38
under the Assaults/Fights category.
To improve the accuracy of data, Denver Public
The vehicular assault incident in Jeffco was a de- Schools (DPS) is instituting a new auditing sys-
liberate attack. Following a heated argument, one tem in the 2005-2006 school year.39 The Director of
student willfully drove an automobile into the the DPS Prevention and Intervention Initiative
other, inflicting serious bodily injury.32 will check discipline data every three weeks to
ensure that incidents are being properly reported.
Yet further inquiry to CDE established that the Any inconsistencies will be reported to area su-
Assaults/Fights category applies only to first and perintendents for correction. By consistently re-
second degree assault as described in statute. Ve- viewing the data, DPS hopes to cut back on over-
hicular assault is classified differently and should reporting or misreporting of incidents.
be reported to CDE under Other Felonies to be
included in Other Violations of Code of Conduct No Child Left Behind and Persistently
on the SAR.33 Dangerous Schools
Data collected for the SAR under SB 133 are used
In all three felony cases the charges were plea for determining Persistently Dangerous Schools
bargained down to third degree assault.34 A first- as required by the Federal No Child Left Behind Act
time offender often receives a plea bargain. Jeffco (NCLB).40 NCLB requires states to establish and

Page 8
implement a policy requiring schools designated Larry Borland, Director of School Safety and Se-
“persistently dangerous” to give students the op- curity for the Douglas County School District,
tion to transfer to a safe school in that district. also believes that school district discipline should
Colorado uses the number of alcohol and drug not be tied to criminal law because it is too com-
violations, assaults/fights, robberies, and other plicated. He said that Assaults/Fights should be
felonies as part of its formula to determine if a separated into two different categories, and, ide-
school is persistently dangerous.41 A school may ally, felonies and misdemeanors
By narrowing
have a large number of fights, but unless they are should be separated.45
the definition of
first or second degree assaults they are not
counted in the Persistently Dangerous Schools Segregating fights and assaults on
to only first and
equation. the SAR may be an ideal improve- second degree
ment. Yet broadening the current assaults, the law
What is the Solution? category to capture a more complete eliminates virtu-
By narrowing the definition of Assaults/Fights to view of violent activity would be a ally all fights
only first and second degree assaults, the law positive step toward improving that commonly
eliminates virtually all fights that commonly oc- awareness of a school’s climate. occur in
cur in schools, and does so without an schools...
Colorado uses explanation on the SAR. Furthermore, Reinstatement of the Other Felonies
the number of officials perform a disservice to stu- category on the SAR could encompass other more
alcohol and drug dents and parents by reporting sexual severe and less typical offenses, including sexual
violations, as-
assaults, robberies, and other felonies assaults.
in the Other Violations of Code of
robberies, and
Conduct category. Opinions about Recommendations
other felonies as
how to improve safety reporting vary. The 2005-2006 SAR will report only incidents that
part of its for-
mula to deter- result in suspensions and expulsions.46 When dis-
Mumma believes all assaults contrib- cussing what type of incidents should be in-
mine if a school
is persistently ute to the climate of the school and can cluded in the Assaults/Fights category, one
dangerous. be an indicator of bullying or an at- should remember the discussion is about inci-
mosphere tolerant of fighting. “If we dents that are serious enough to result in a sus-
are going to talk about assaults, we need to talk pension or expulsion. The following recommen-
about them all,” he says, noting that parents ex- dations address the current deficiencies:
pect the SARs to report all incidents, not just
those in which a student’s life is threatened.42 1. By modifying the scope of the data collection,
the Colorado General Assembly should consider
Bob Anderson, Director of the Denver Public broadening the definition of the Assaults/Fights
Schools (DPS) Prevention and Intervention Initia- category
tive, suggests a wider definition of fights that a) to include third degree assaults, municipal
takes bullying into account may be more helpful assaults, and vehicular assaults (the statute per-
to the public than the current policy.43 taining to a vehicular assault is within the same
section of the law as first, second, and third de-
State Board of Education member Rico Munn, gree assaults);
who represents Denver, points out that the goal b) to include disorderly conduct involving fight-
of the SAR is to give an accurate picture of the ing as defined by state law and municipal ordi-
school environment, not simply to report a series nances;
of numbers. He believes that schools should have c) to include incidents that take place in school
more flexibility in how they report, such as a nar- vehicles, and at school activities and sanctioned
rative format, to give them the opportunity to events;
better describe their specific environment. Munn, d) to include assaults with a connection to the
an attorney, explained that forcing schools to use school, such as when a student is attacked on the
legal definitions to describe their environment way home from school or attacked across the
has caused confusion.44 street from the school.

Page 9
2. The General Assembly or the Colorado Depart- 6 Karen Gerwitz, Director for State Board Relations, CDE,
electronic mail to Benigno, January 27, 2006.
ment of Education should consider 7 Colorado Department of Education Web site, 2004-2005
a) clearly noting on the SAR the definition of the Safety & Discipline Indicator Collection Narrative,
Assaults/Fights category;
8 Rick O’Donnell, former Director of Policy, Governor Bill
b) restoring the Other Felonies category to the
Owens’ Office, electronic mail to Benigno, August 8, 2005.
Safety and Discipline table and the definition of 9 School Accountability Reports Web site, Frequently Asked
the type of offenses it might include. Questions, Terms & Definitions, Assaults/Fights,
Conclusion dler.jsp.
10 George Mumma, Investigator, Juvenile Crime Unit Special
The Safety and Environment section on the SAR Operations, First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Jefferson
should be an important tool for parents. Whether and Gilpin Counties, telephone conversation with Benigno,
the information gleaned from the report is used in January 31, 2006.
11 CDE Web site, 2004-2005 Safety & Discipline Indicator Col-
choosing a school or as a means of communica-
lection Narrative,
tion to parents of children enrolled in the school, John Peery,
the SAR will only be useful if the information Charter School Liaison, Jefferson County Public Schools, tele-
provided gives an accurate picture of the school phone conversation with Benigno, January 31, 2006.
12 Marilyn Sonnkalb, Student Data Services Information Man-
ager, Jefferson County R-1 School District, personal conversa-
tion with authors, July 7, 2005.
By reporting only first and second degree assaults 13 Ibid.
14 CDE, “Data Summary Report, 2003-2004 Safety and Disci-
in the Assaults/Fights category and by merging
serious incidents such as sexual assaults and rob- pline Indicator,” Jefferson County R-1 School District, Pre-
pared July 27, 2004. Peery, telephone conversation with Be-
beries with cheating and dress code violations, nigno, January 31, 2006.
the SAR may fail to give parents an accurate view 15 CDE, “Data Summary Report, 2004-2005 Safety and Disci-

of the school’s climate. Just as requirements for pline Indicator,” Jefferson County R-1 School District, Pre-
substance abuse violations do not limit reporting pared June 21, 2005.
16 Confidential conversation of Benigno with parent, January
to on-campus occurrences, so Assaults/Fights 27, 2006.
should include incidents that take place on school 17 Confidential conversation of Benigno with parent, January

buses and at school-sanctioned activities. A lack 26, 2006.

18 Police reports obtained and summarized by Benigno. The
of understanding among school district personnel
identity of the school is confidential to protect the victims.
of state policies further distorts data. 19 Ibid.
20 CDE Web site, Unsafe School Option,

Current law provides the tools to educate parents

and community members about school safety. s/tixe_policy.pdf.
21 Conversations of Benigno with numerous law enforcement
What remains is to adjust current reporting re- officers and school district personnel.
quirements so that the SARs provide a more accu- 22 See Note 18.

rate picture of a school’s environment. 23 Conversations of authors with personnel in Denver Public

School District, Douglas County Public School District and

Jefferson County Public School District.
Notes 24 CDE Web site, 2004-2005 Safety & Discipline Indicator Col-
1 Governor Bill Owens, “Announcement of ‘Putting Children lection Narrative, Assaults/Fights, Clarification,
First: A Plan for Safe and Excellent Schools,’” Remarks as
Prepared for Delivery, December 8, 1999, 25 Confidential conversation of Benigno with a rural superin- tendent, November 11, 2005.
htm. 26 C.R.S. § 22-32-109.1(2)(b).
2 Governor Bill Owens’ Office, personal conversations with
27 Olinger, “Reports conceal school fights,” Denver Post, April
Pamela Benigno during the development of School Account- 10, 2005.
ability Reports. 28 SAR Web site, Frequently Asked Questions, Terms & Defini-
3 David Olinger, “Reports conceal school fights,” Denver Post,
tions, Other Violations of Code of Conduct,
April 10, 2005.
4 Colorado Revised Statutes § 22-32-109.1 et seq. Statistics can
be found on Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Web 29 Janelle Krueger, Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communi-
site, Suspension/Expulsion Statistics, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 ties Program Manager, CDE, telephone conversation with
Statistics, listed by district, Benigno, August 11, 2005. 30 Jefferson County Public Schools Code of Conduct and Related
5 C.R.S. § 22-7-601 et seq.
Policies, “Grounds for Suspension/Expulsion,”

Page 10 PAMELA BENIGNO is the Director of the Educa-
31 Peery, personal conversation with Benigno, November 11, tion Policy Center at the Independence Institute.
2005. She directs research, writes, and speaks about
32 Mumma, telephone conversation with Benigno, January 31,
school accountability and school choice issues. Be-
33 Krueger, electronic mail to Benigno, February 7, 2006. nigno is a former Jeffco teacher and the mother of a
34 Mumma, telephone conversation with Benigno, December 7,
Jeffco graduate and current Jeffco high school stu-
35 Peery, personal conversation with Benigno, November 11, dent. She is the author of No Child Left Behind Man-
2005. dates School Choice: Colorado’s First Year; Public K-12
36 Annette Severson, CDE staff, electronic mail to Benigno, Janu-
Online Education: Stop the Discrimination; Colorado
ary 12, 2006.
37 Peery, personal conversation with Benigno, November 11, Public School Open Enrollment Policies: Not Very
2005. Open; and the co-author of Should Colorado School
38 Mumma, various conversations with authors, August 2

through October 13, 2005.

Districts Stop Collecting Political Funds?.
39 Bob Anderson, Prevention and Intervention Initiative Direc-

tor, Denver Public Schools, personal conversation with authors, KIRSTIN HASLER is a Research Associate for the
August 3, 2005.
40 No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Public Law 107-110, Title IX, Education Policy Center at the Independence Insti-
Part E, Subpart 2, § 9532, tute. She attends Gordon College in Massachusetts.
Her family resides in Jefferson County, Colorado.
41 CDE Web site, Unsafe School Option, ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be

42 Mumma, personal conversation with authors, August 2, 2005. found at:
43 Anderson, personal conversation with authors, August 3,

44 Rico Munn, Colorado State Board of Education Member, per-
NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as
sonal conversation with authors, July 7, 2005. necessarily representing the views of the Inde-
45 Larry Borland, Safety and Security Director, Douglas County
pendence Institute or as an attempt to influence
Schools, telephone conversation with Benigno, November 10,
2005. any election or legislative action.
46 Janice Rose Petro, Data and Research Director, CDE, tele-

phone conversation with Benigno, January 24, 2006. 2004-2005

SARs reported the total number of incidents when action was
PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or
taken by the school district in the “number of incidents” col- in part is hereby granted provided full credit is
umn. Only the number of suspensions and expulsions were given to the Independence Institute.
reported separately. The 2005-2006 SAR only will include sus-
pensions and expulsions in the “number of incidents” column.

Copyright © 2006, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-

partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a
statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3)
tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy re-
search focuses on economic growth, education re-
form, local government effectiveness, and Consti-
tutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Independence


DAVID KOPEL is Research Director of the Inde-

pendence Institute.

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