How state violates students’ right to safe schools

Lincoln News Messenger (CA), June 19, 2008

Editor’s note: This editorial refers to suspension rates for violence and drugs at local schools, a topic covered in depth on the front page of the News Messenger. While the numbers might seem alarming, many of the suspensions referred to in this editorial are for relatively minor offenses. The editorial is correct in that a school must have a certain number of expulsions for more serious offenses for three consecutive years before it is deemed a persistently dangerous school.

Nine out of 10 elementary and secondary students statewide, including those in Placer County, attend schools reporting incidents involving violence, physical injuries or weapons. Yet earlier this legislative session, the Assembly Education Committee failed to uphold California students’ “inalienable” right under the state constitution to attend schools that are “safe, secure and peaceful.”

All states receiving federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 must have an unsafe-school policy that upholds parents’ rights to transfer their children to safe schools. Last year alone, California public schools reported more than three-quarters of a million incidents to the state department of education resulting in suspensions and expulsions. But not a single one of California’s more than 9,000 public schools has ever met the state’s definition of unsafe.

That’s because it takes a minimum of three consecutive years and a specified number and kind of expulsions, among other criteria, before a school is even considered unsafe. California schools easily avoid this classification by suspending students or temporarily transferring them under the guise of such things as “suspended expulsions,” which the state does not track.

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General was so concerned over California’s policy, it issued a special report to Congress last fall concluding: 1) it should not take three consecutive years before a school is considered dangerous and parents can move their children to safer schools; and 2) any definition of unsafe schools should be based on objective criteria students and parents would use to determine the safety of a school.

The Safe Schools Guarantee (AB 2361, Rick Keene, R-Chico), which the Assembly Education Committee rejected, would have achieved both those goals. Once a dangerous incident occurred, parents of students with “the reasonable apprehension that their person or property is not secure” could transfer them to another public school they consider safe.

Importantly, the Safe Schools Guarantee would have let parents move their children to safety before they become victims. Under current California policy, students are granted an immediate transfer option only after they become victims of violent crime at school.

Nearly nine out of 10 of Placer County schools (89 percent) reported incidents involving violence, physical injury or weapons last year, 1,379 incidents in all. Those schools average 24 incidents each. Statistics for Western Placer Unified School District are better but no cause for celebration, either.

Eighty-two percent of Western Placer Unified schools in 2006-07 reported a total of 167 incidents involving violence, physical injury or weapons, an average of 15 incidents each. Twelve Bridges Middle School led the district with 58 incidents involving violence, physical injury or weapons, resulting in student suspensions or expulsions. Runner-up Glen Edwards Middle School had 48. The state has failed to deem any of these schools unsafe.

California students should not have to be victimized before their parents are allowed to transfer them. Politicians may feel secure in Sacramento, but that does not absolve them from duty. California legislators need to uphold the inalienable right of California children, including those in Placer County, to safe schools.

– Vicki E. Murray, Ph.D., is a Education Studies Senior Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento. She was an invited expert who testified before the Assembly Education Committee on April 2, 2008. Murray’s testimony is available online at

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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