Unsafe School Choice Option
In May, the State Board of Education approved the standards proposed by the Department that establish the policy. The policy contains two provisions that apply to local educational agencies: (1) victims of violent criminal offense s and (2) persistently dangerous school s. Those standards were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Both provisions of the standards are discussed below.
The USCO Policy Provision 1: Victims of Violent Criminal Offenses applies to all LEAs receiving NCLB funds. Provision 2: Persistently Dangerous Schools applies only to LEAs that have been designated by the PDE under the policy as persistently dangerous.
STUDENTS WHO BECOME VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIMINAL OFFENSES
The second part of the Unsafe School Choice Option Standards deals with what happens when a student is the victim of a serious crime while at school. As a general rule, a student who becomes a victim of a violent criminal offense while in or on the grounds of the public elementary or secondary school that he or she attends, must be offered the opportunity to transfer to a safe public school within the school district (or other school entity), including a charter school. Under these standards, a violent criminal offense includes all of the following crimes: kidnapping, robbery, aggravated assault, rape, sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, attempted murder, homicide, or voluntary manslaughter.
IMPORTANT: In order for a student victim to be entitled to transfer to another school under these standards, the violent criminal offense must first be reported to law enforcement authorities by the student, the student's parent/guardian, or school officials.
Within 10 days after the incident is reported to law enforcement and the school is notified, a student victim of a violent crime must be offered the opportunity to transfer to a safe public school, including a public charter school, in the particular district.
TIME LIMIT : After the school offers the opportunity to transfer, a student victim (or his/her parent/guardian) may apply to the LEA to transfer to another school within 30 calendar days after the incident is reported to school authorities.
A parent/guardian is not guaranteed to be able to transfer their child to the school of his/her choice, but the district is required to consider the particular needs of the student and the parent If a student who becomes a victim of a violent criminal offense exercises the option to transfer to another public school, the school district (or other school entity) is required to provide for the student's transportation to a safe public school.
PERSISTENTLY DANGEROUS SCHOOLS
THE DEPARTMENT'S STANDARDS FOR IDENTIFYING PERSISTENTLY DANGEROUS SCHOOLS
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, each state must establish standards for identifying "persistently dangerous schools". In order to develop its policy, the Department assembled a large advisory group consisting of school safety experts, parents/guardians, teachers, school administrators, and representatives of many education interest groups. That advisory group developed proposed standards that were ultimately adopted by the State Board of Education.
The purpose of the standards is to identify those schools that have a record of school safety problems so that the problems will be addressed and corrected to keep students safe. The identification of certain schools as "persistently dangerous" does not change the fact that, for most children, school is one of the safest places for them to be. But it also recognizes that some schools need to take serious steps in order to make their schools safer.
The Department's standards define a persistently dangerous school as any public elementary, secondary, or charter school that meets any of the following criteria in the most recent school year and in one additional year of the two years prior to the most recent school year:
- For a school whose enrollment is 250 or less, at least 5 dangerous incidents;
- For a school whose enrollment is 251 to 1000, a number of dangerous incidents that represents at least 2% of the school's enrollment; or
- For a school whose enrollment is over 1000, 20 or more dangerous incidents.
A dangerous incident is defined as a weapons possession incident resulting in arrest (guns, knives, or other weapons) or a violent incident resulting in arrest (homicide, kidnapping, robbery, sexual offenses, and assaults) as reported on the Violence and Weapons Possession Report (PDE-360), which school districts file each year.
After the Department identifies a school as meeting the definition of persistently dangerous, within 10 days the school district (or other entity) that operates that school must offer each student who attends it the opportunity to transfer to a safe public school within the district,
including a charter school. Therefore, if a student attends a school that has been identified as persistently dangerous, the parent/guardian will receive an information letter from the school that
Notifies the parent/guardian that the school has been identified as persistently dangerous; and
(2) Offers the parent/guardian the option to transfer their child to a safe school.
It is important to note that the parent/guardian is not required to transfer their child to another school.
LEAs having one or more schools designated as "persistently dangerous" must notify the parents/guardians of each student attending these particular schools that the schools have been given this designation. LEAs must notify parents/guardians within ten working days from the date that the LEA receives final notice of the "persistently dangerous" designation from the PDE.
In order to transfer the student, the parent/guardian must apply for a transfer using the form supplied by the school. Please note that under the Department's standards, a student who attends a persistently dangerous school may apply to transfer at any time while the school maintains that designation. If there is not another safe school within the district to which students may transfer, the district is encouraged, but not required, to establish an agreement with a neighboring district to accept the transfer of students.
After the parent/guardian files the application for transfer, the school district is required to carry out the transfer within 30 calendar days. The district is required to provide for transportation for students who transfer to another school.
Some Additional Issues
A parent/guardian is not guaranteed to be able to transfer his/her child to the school of his/her choice, but the district is required to consider the particular needs of the student and the parent/guardian in making the transfer decision.
- In addition, to the extent possible, the district should allow the student to transfer to a school that is making adequate yearly progress, and one that is not identified as being in school improvement, corrective action, or restructuring. A charter school is only required to accept a student who meets its admission criteria if space is available.