Schenectady High School keeps ‘persistently dangerous’ label

Schenectady High School is still a persistently dangerous school, the state Education Department sai

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Schenectady High School is still a persistently dangerous school, the state Education Department said Friday.

But the school is much safer than it used to be — at least according to its self-reported number of violent and dangerous incidents.

In fact, the number of incidents declined so much last year that it no longer met the state’s definition of a dangerous school, state officials said.

“Under the prior year’s rules, the school would indeed have been eligible for removal from the list,” spokesman Jonathan Burman said.

But this year, getting better was not enough. State Education Commissioner David M. Steiner decided that he will no longer take schools off the persistently dangerous list until they’ve shown improvement for two years in a row.

Schenectady interim Superintendent John Yagielski called the decision a “crushing disappointment.”

“Without question we had met the standards they were looking for,” he said. “They changed the rules.”

When state officials audited the district’s numbers this summer and determined in late July that they were correct, Yagielski said he and the staff were certain the school would be off the list by fall.

The school reduced its assaults with injury by more than two-thirds, down to eight, and brought its sex offenses down from 10 to two.

It reported no riots last year — down from five — and cut its number of “disruptive incidents” by nearly two-thirds.

If the district had improved that much just a year earlier, it would have gotten off the list.

“It’s terrible, terribly unfair to change the rules as late as they did,” Yagielski said.

He’s confident the school will get off the list next summer.

But Schenectady High School’s improved year still shows far more incidents than its local urban counterparts, the Albany and Troy high schools.

It had four assaults with serious injury and two robberies. The other schools had none.

Likewise, Schenectady had six incidents of reckless endangerment. Albany had two and Troy had none.

And in the more minor incidents, Schenectady’s numbers were much higher than its counterparts.

It had 115 “minor altercations” last year, compared with 70 at Albany and 37 and Troy.

It had 149 cases of bullying, while Albany reported 96 and Troy just 10.

The school did do better than Albany and Troy in some respects.

It had four incidents of criminal mischief; Troy had six and Albany had eight. It had 15 thefts, while Troy had 20 and Albany none.

The state has gathered and publicized these statistics for four years. Schenectady’s record shows significant fluctuation during that time.

For example, in the first year, Schenectady reported only 10 disruptive incidents and four assaults with minor injuries.

The following year, 2006-07, it reported 2,752 disruptive incidents and 30 minor assaults.

That report earned the school a place on the persistently dangerous list. But Schenectady didn’t volunteer all of the data that led the state to put it on the list.

The state audited Schenectady’s numbers and found that it had under-reported, Education Department spokesman Burman said.

A similar audit this year put Rochester’s East High School on the list, he added.

“We go into the schools. We do forensic auditing,” he said.

Among other techniques, officials check the school’s individual student conduct files to see if every incident is included in the annual report.

Persistently dangerous schools are audited before they can be taken off the list. Other schools are audited less often.

Because of that, Schenectady officials have complained in the past that other schools get away with vastly under-reporting their incidents.

There are extreme variations between school districts, with some recording thousands of incidents while others report that nothing happened all year. Among the local examples of variation, Troy reported only 183 disruptive incidents all year, while Albany reported 1,095 and Schenectady reported 971.

State officials are now beginning to question the self-reporting system.

Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said she is “perplexed” by the varying reports.

Steiner agreed, saying, “We must ensure that we are being honest with one another.”

The state Education Department is now working with the state Legislature to create a new system.

Other schools deemed persistently dangerous include 10 schools in New York City, Berkshire Junior-Senior High School, East High School in Rochester and Little Flower School, a residential school for special education students in Wading River.

The state designates schools as persistently dangerous if they have two successive years of serious incidents, such as murder, rape, robbery, assault with injury, arson, kidnapping, reckless endangerment, use of a weapon or threat of a weapon.

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