A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – Last week, the Department of Education released its latest annual report on school safety, a study that gives the public a truly comprehensive look at the discipline issues our students, teachers, staff and administrators face.
Overall, the news is good. Nearly 90 percent of the 660,000 students who attend public schools were not involved in any infractions in 2013-14, and of the remainder, only a small percentage was engaged in violent behavior.
This is part of a welcome downward trend we’re seeing across the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the rate of students between the ages of 12 and 18 who were harmed or victims of theft at school between 1992 and 2012 dropped by more than two-thirds, from 181 per 1,000 students to 52.
The Department of Education’s statistics show that nearly 1,600 cases of violence were reported last school year. Ninth graders represented the largest age group, while high school seniors had fewer incidents than sixth graders.
Cases involving drugs, alcohol and tobacco were also more prominent among ninth graders, but every grade, including kindergarten, had at least two reports last year. Tobacco was by far the biggest sub-category among all students, but marijuana infractions outnumbered alcohol by more than a two-to-one margin; heroin was a factor in six cases; and cocaine was the focus in three.
The department’s other findings were both positive and negative. Expulsions were lower last year, and there were almost 10,000 fewer out-of-school suspensions when compared to 2011-12. In-school removals, however, were up dramatically in just a year’s time.
Bullying, unfortunately, has also been going in the wrong direction.
The department said that the number of reported incidents went from 15,520 in 2012-13 to more than 20,000 last year, affecting more than one in four students between the ages of 12 and 18.
While ninth graders are the biggest age group when it comes to reports of violence and drug and tobacco use, bullying appears to be a bigger problem in middle school.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed a law dedicating October as anti-bullying month; and late last month, the Kentucky Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force, which Governor Beshear authorized, held its inaugural meeting. Its findings are due a year from now and should give schools and legislators alike ideas on what should be done next.
The General Assembly has taken other steps over the years to better protect our schools and those who attend them. In the late 1990s, it established the Kentucky Center for School Safety, which is giving our districts the analysis and training they need to respond to behavioral issues and emergencies.
Last year, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut, legislators passed a law calling for greater coordination among schools and local first responders. This year, we also enacted a major reform of our juvenile-justice system.
In addition to compiling the annual statewide study on school safety, the Department of Education’s report cards on our schools and districts include local information as well on this subject. Just visit www.education.ky.gov online and click on “school report cards” under the “Initiatives” banner. Once there, pick a school or district and then click on the “learning environment” tab and then “safety.”
The General Assembly is always looking for ways to make improvements when it comes to public safety, especially when it involves our schools. If you have any suggestions, I would like to know.
You can always write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected]
To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.