Schools not on dangerous list

By Trina Trice

Following the arrest of a Lovejoy Middle School student who brought two guns to his school's open house, school administrators are sticking by the district's policies, saying they are still effective.

The Lovejoy Middle School student, whose name and age could not be released because he's a juvenile, was charged with bringing two guns onto school property, hiding them outside the school so that he could later "shoot them in the woods."

Although none of Georgia's schools appear on a state issued dangerous schools list, there are still instances of misconduct that warrant disciplinary action in Clayton County schools.

A state-required discipline data report shows the number of instances students have committed violent acts, such as bringing weapons to school and fighting.

The school district sends information on the number of disciplinary cases, broken down by type, to the state Department of Education that then complies the data into reports for individual school systems.

At Clayton County schools last year 25 firearms, 89 knives, and 96 other weapons were found in students' possession.

There were also more than 2,600 fighting incidents.

But the term "fighting" could mean simple pushing and shoving to an all out bloody fight, according to acting Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton.

Threats and intimidation cases numbered at 502 on school campuses, the report states.

Parent Danny Williams' daughter, a junior at Morrow High School, experienced a threatening situation last year.

"We had a problem with someone calling (the house) making threats against her," he said. "I'm sure parents in the school system probably have to deal with it."

Williams is a police sergeant for the Atlanta Police Department. Despite his daughter's ordeal, he's confident that at least Morrow High School is safe.

"It's not a big concern with weapons," he said. "The children are aware enough that they're going to report (seeing a student with a weapon). It's how you educate your children."

Horton assures parents that they can trust the numbers the county sent to the state.

Earlier this year Gwinnett County school officials confessed to underreporting the number of discipline cases, causing an uproar among parents.

"The state monitors (the data) very closely," Horton said. "There has never been a reference to Clayton County cheating on it. We've always reported on our numbers, good or bad."

The Georgia Department of Education recently released the list of persistently dangerous schools, as defined by the Unsafe School Choice Option rule and required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

No schools in Georgia were over the "persistently dangerous" threshold.

"Columbine was to schools what 9/11 was to airport security," said Kathy Cox, state superintendent of schools. "Our schools have taken the issue of safety seriously, and have put strong plans into place.

"The USCO rule seeks to identify only those schools that have shown a consistent pattern of dangerous, violent offenses that severely interfere with school instruction. We're using the USCO data and the State-required discipline data to help all schools by identifying areas that need assistance, and we'll be working with our Safe & Drug-Free Schools coordinators to help schools implement preventive measures. Toward that end, the Department will offer workshops, staff development, and limited assistance to address school climate issues."

Under the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, schools on either list must allow students to transfer to another public school.

Georgia struggled with how to define "persistently dangerous."

Local school systems resisted the first definition, which was set in April. Schools would have been put on that list if 1 percent of the students were charged with a felony for three years in a row, or if 4 percent with misdemeanor drug offenses.

Georgia finally decided on these criteria:

* Three straight years in which a student is charged with either aggravated battery, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated sodomy, armed robbery, first-degree arson, kidnapping, murder rape or voluntary manslaughter.

* Three years in which 10 students or 2 percent of the student body - whichever is greater - were charged with weapons possession, making threats or drug possession.

The charges would count only if the offense was on school property or at a school function, and if a disciplinary hearing is held.

Georgia, along with California, Florida, Illinois and Arkansas, were among the states that had no schools labeled unsafe.

Dacula High School in Gwinnett County got closer to becoming the state's first persistently dangerous school last week when a student stabbed another on campus. Dacula High School met the state's definition in 2002 and 2003. If that happens for one more year, Dacula could become the state's first persistently dangerous school.

The Associated Press contributed to this article