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Kids or criminals

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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12/20/2016 - At the end of each school year, local Michigan school districts are required to report to the Michigan Department of Education the total number of all of the students who have been expelled that year, along with a list of 20-some infractions, which include everything from truancy to homicide, bullying to gang-related violence, that have occurred on school grounds or at school activities.

The law applies to all public and charter schools, while private schools are exempt from reporting any incidents on their grounds. The goal is to provide an accurate local and statewide picture of school crimes, and to work to plan and implement the appropriate school programs to provide safety to all students, staff, administrators and visitors.

For every parent and educator, schools are designed as more than just a place of learning, but also as a sanctuary from the troubles students may encounter in the outside world. According to the U.S. Department of Justice and National Institute of Justice, "For students to succeed, their educational environment must be safe, secure and orderly. To this end, schools must cultivate a climate of respect, free of disruption drugs, violence and weapons." According to studies by the National Institute of Justice, students who are victimized at school are more prone to truancy, poor academic performance, drop out of school at higher rates, and have more violent behavior. And while schools can be safe havens within the communities they are located, school safety and security remain important issues.

The first national study on school safety was mandated by Congress in 1974, when researchers from the Research Triangle Institute asked public school students and teachers in grades 7 through 12 to report school-related victimizations and vandalism in their schools. At that time, in a typical month, an estimated 5,200 teachers reported being physically assaulted. In 1989, a National Crime Victimization Survey looked at school crime in order to measure school crime for youths 12 to 19, with 54 percent of students reporting being victims at school caused by other teens. The crimes included were primarily robbery and assault, which the survey noted were most likely to occur while students were going to and from school; simple assault – school fights – happened more often in their school building.

The requirement from the Michigan legislature to provide the annual listing of crime statistics hails back to the 1990s, as a state version of the Clery Act, a law enacted by the U.S. government in 1990 to offer campus security and campus crime security, with compliance monitored by the U.S. Department of Education. The Clery Act amended the Higher Education Act of 1965, and required all colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime that happens on or near their campuses. The law is named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old student at LeHigh University in Pennsylvania who was raped and murdered in her residence hall on campus in 1986.

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