School safety loses in Sacramento

Nine of 10 elementary and secondary students statewide, including in Orange County, attend schools reporting incidents involving violence, physical injuries or weapons. Yet, in a vote this month, the state 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 a policy that upholds parents’ rights to transfer their children to safe schools. California public schools reported to the state Department of Education more than three-quarters of a million incidents resulting in suspensions and expulsions last year alone.

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

A bill, the Safe Schools Guarantee, Assembly Bill 2361, by Rick Keene, R-Chico, which the Education Committee rejected this month, would have achieved both those goals. It would have provided that, 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. Unsafe schools would have to secure their campuses, something they do, anyway.

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.

Representing the majority was the committee chairman, Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who voted against the Safe School Guarantee, stating he never felt unsafe when he was teaching. Assemblyman Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, was among the minority voting in favor of the measure. Joining Mullin in opposing the Safe Schools Guarantee were five other Democrats, including Assemblyman Jose Solario, D-Anaheim.

Nearly 80 percent of Orange County schools reported incidents last year involving violence, physical injury or weapons, almost 11,500 incidents in all. Those reporting schools averaged around 24 incidents each.

Statistics for schools in cities like Santa Ana, Anaheim and Garden Grove are even worse. Schools in those cities reported more than 4,500 incidents involving violence, physical injury or weapons. Fully 85 percent of Santa Ana schools reported such incidents, averaging 28 at each campus. In Anaheim, 88 percent of the schools reported incidents, averaging 37 each. In Garden Grove, 93 percent of schools reported incidents involving violence, physical injury, or weapons, averaging 28 incidents each. None of the schools in these cities has been deemed unsafe by the state.

Politicians may feel safe and secure in Sacramento, but that does not absolve them from their sworn duty to uphold the state constitution, including the inalienable right of children to safe schools. California students should not have to be victimized before legislators let them move from dangerous schools.

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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