By Tom Steward Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
MN SCHOOLS GET BETTER GRADES FOR DISCIPLINE: State “Dangerous Weapons and Disciplinary Actions” report shows decline in suspensions and expulsions last academic year.
ST. PAUL, Minn.— Anti-bullying bills dominated the education headlines from the 2014 legislative session, yet an annual state report card on school safety shows student behavior is down on the list of disciplinary issues registered by Minnesota’s publicly funded schools.
In fact, the number of bullying and cyber-bullying incidents in the 2012-13 school year declined by about 20 percent from the year before — from 1,206 to 970 incidents, state school safety statistics show.
That’s one of the takeaways from the “Dangerous Weapons and Disciplinary Incidents” report compiled by the Minnesota Department of Education. The 41-page overview provides the most detailed account of student conduct problems that result in intervention, suspension and expulsion by school authorities statewide.
The annual status report provides an important snapshot for parents, school officials and legislators on an issue that equals academics in importance —school safety.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority for our students, our staff every day,” said Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. “You’re always wanting to make sure that you’re working collaboratively … and have created processes which can help to avert a possible disruptive situation and can help a disruptive situation come to a quicker safer conclusion if it does occur.”
The top-line numbers can be alarming: 51,460 disciplinary incidents, 109,494 days of out-of-school suspensions and 1,369 incidents involving weapons. But a closer look at the details reveals a downward trend in several categories, including school suspensions and number of days students were removed from the classroom for a day or more.
“There was a 12 (percent) to 13 percent drop in those two categories from last year to the year before,” said Nancy Riestenberg, school climate specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education. “That’s a pretty nice trend line that there’s a decrease in the number of suspensions, and there was also a decrease in the number of expulsions. For the first time in a long time, we were under 200 expulsions.”
Students in seventh through 10th grades are most likely to cause trouble, though 869 kindergarten students acted up enough to receive disciplinary attention. The report underscores that “state data continues (sic) to show disproportionate minority representation in disciplinary incidents, for American Indian, Black and Hispanic Students.”
About half of the altercations involve disruptive conduct — 38 percent — or fighting — 14 percent — with male students implicated in three out of every four confrontations. Assaults, threats and illegal drugs figure into about 20 percent of the incidents combined. Bullying and cyber-bullying incidents were responsible for less than 2 percent of the cases.
Ten handguns, nine longer barrel guns and 101 pellet, BB or air guns were found in possession of students. Two bomb incidents and 25 bomb threats were included in the tally. The report emphasizes that most incidents do not involve weapons, which factor into about 2.5 percent of the disputes with knives, accounting for 962 of 1,369 weapons-related incidents.
“The most common weapon that’s found in a school is a knife with a blade that’s less than 2