How safe are Oregon schools?


by Dan Lucas

The safety of our schools has been in the news a great deal lately. Some terrible tragedies have focused attention on the safety of our children and our teachers. We tend to focus on safety in the schools after such high profile tragedies, but what about the rest of the time? How safe are our schools when we’re not focused on them, when there aren’t high profile tragedies to get our attention?

Thanks to one of the lessor known aspects of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the Unsafe School Choice Option, we have some data that gives insights into the safety of Oregon schools.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, the Act “requires State Education Agencies to establish a school choice policy for students attending a persistently dangerous school as defined by the state.” The Act also requires that students “who becomes a victim of a violent criminal offense” be “allowed to attend a safe educational agency, including a public charter school.” To support this requirement, schools receiving public funds are required to provide extensive reporting to the Oregon Department of Education.

That extensive reporting shows that for the most recently completed school year, 2011-2012, there were 156 sexual assaults in Oregon’s K-12 schools, and 8,428 physical assaults. 1,000 of those physical assaults involved a weapon. That’s 156 sexual assaults and 8,428 physical assaults in our K-12 schools, in one school year. The 1,000 physical assaults involving a weapon were despite zero tolerance school policies banning weapons, Oregon state law prohibiting bringing or having a weapon at school, and the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act.

School buses are another factor in school safety. The Oregon Department of Education also reports on school bus safety. For the most recently completed school year, 2011-2012, there were 515 school bus accidents in Oregon. Of those, 315 were the bus driver’s fault. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. In fact, the report shows that there hasn’t been a school bus fatality in Oregon in 36 years.

Exploring the safety of Oregon’s colleges and universities requires a different source of data — at the federal level instead of the state level.

Following the terrible 1986 rape and murder of 19-year-old Jeanne Clery in her Pennsylvania college dorm room, her parents lobbied for better reporting of violent and non-violent incidents on campuses. The result was the Jeanne Clery Act, which took effect in 1991. The reporting required by the Act is collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

That data shows that in 2011 there were 30 forcible sex offenses, 3 robberies, 9 aggravated assaults and 174 burglaries on the campuses of Oregon public 4-year universities. On Oregon’s private 4-year university campuses, there were 46 forcible sex offenses, 2 robberies, 2 aggravated assaults and 66 burglaries in 2011. There were an additional 9 forcible sex offenses, 2 robberies, 10 aggravated assaults, and 41 burglaries on Oregon community college campuses in 2011. The numbers for college campuses don’t include any crimes committed in college parking lots, sidewalks or off-campus sites like fraternities and sororities.

2011 Crimes on Oregon College Campuses

What the data shows, is that in addition to working on solutions to the high profile tragedies, we also need to be working on solutions to make Oregon schools safe all the time.