Chaos in the classroom: Investigating school safety
BALTIMORE (WBFF) - How safe are students in school?
The answer is: We don’t know. What the public is told about school safety, some believe, is intentionally misleading. Project Baltimore explored why the United States government’s push to improve school discipline could be having the opposite effect.
“I think that it’s becoming a national epidemic,” says Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute, a center-right think tank. He says our schools are becoming increasingly more violent, but you wouldn’t know it. He considers school safety data “fake,” saying, “The cure is worse than the disease.”
Nationwide, 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying, according to federal data. In some cases, it starts even younger.
Project Baltimore obtained cell phone video of a second grader from Dogwood Elementary in Baltimore County. In the video, the girl cries, “I don’t want to go to school! I don’t want to go to school!” It’s a difficult video to watch, but the girl’s mother recorded it out of desperation after she says her daughter was attacked by another student.
The emergency room diagnosed the girl’s injuries as an “assault” and kept her out of school for three days. The girl’s pediatrician sent a letter to the school’s principal saying the school, “is no longer capable of providing a safe environment.” Baltimore County Police investigated and found the second grader was the victim of a second-degree assault.
“I couldn't touch her head for days,” the girl’s mother told Project Baltimore. “I had to take her to her doctor that Friday. Her doctor couldn't even touch her head.”
But when the family filed a bullying complaint with the school, the result was very different. Despite the police report, the medical records and the doctor's note, the school determined, “There is not sufficient evidence to prove that your child was subjected to bullying or intimidation behaviors.” There was no recommended discipline and no documented attack. It’s like it never happened.
The school district declined an interview. The school’s principal dodged WBFF's questions when they approached her outside on the sidewalk after dismissal. Eden says he isn’t surprised.
“I see that across the country,” he says. “You see weapons being confiscated and given back to students because, if you process the weapons, you have to file a police report and that looks bad on you as a principal.”
Eden says discipline has become a numbers game: Don’t document the incident and you don’t have a problem. But that wasn’t the intention.
“This all came from a good place,” he says. “National data showed an alarming disparity in school suspensions by race.”
Following pressure from the U.S. Department of Education in 2014 to reduce suspensions, Eden says that the federal government threatened to investigate schools, or pull their funding, if their suspension numbers were too high. Many schools began reducing disciplinary actions.