The “persistently dangerous” schools component of No Child Left Behind allows parents to transfer their child out of a school that a state designates as persistently dangerous. States have rather wide discretion in how they will define “persistently dangerous”. The Virginia Department of Education has decided that persistently dangerous schools will be “identified based on school safety data such as the types and occurrences of violent criminal acts in public elementary schools or secondary schools.” The Georgia Department of Education has a pretty specific formula for determining which schools will be designated as such (for Georgia’s policy, see www.gdoe.net/gepb/policy/GEPBPolicy_400/GEPB_471.pdf). In North Carolina, the State Board of Education has defined persistently dangerous to mean, “A public school in which the conditions during the past two school years continually exposed its students to injury from violent criminal offenses and it is an elementary, middle or secondary public school in which a total of five or more violent criminal offenses were committed per 1000 students (0.5 or more per 100 students) in two consecutive school years.”
At one North Carolina school for children diagnosed with severe behavior and emotional disorders (Longview School), three cases of assault (a sexual assault of a female teacher, an assault involving serious injury, and an assault involving a weapon) have the school in danger of being placed on North Carolina’s persistently dangerous schools list. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, if the school lands on that list, parents would be must be given the option of transferring their children to other schools. In this case, however, the question of where those students would transfer to is problematic. On the special education continuum, Longview is a public-separate setting. This means their students’ disabilities are severe enough that their educational needs cannot be met in self-contained classroom settings at traditional public schools. The problem is that Longview is the only public separate school for middle and high school students in Wake County, North Carolina. With the special population that schools like Longview serve, there is not a need for another school like it within that district. If Longview or another school like it ends up on North Carolina’s persistently dangerous schools list, special considerations will have to be made. One possibility is interdistrict transfers. I would contend, however, that a better solution would be a policy that holds the school accountable for student safety, but also recognizes the unique population served by these types of schools. And while we’re at it, providing whatever additional additional resources-human, financial, or material- are needed to keep students safe at the school. Unique circumstances often require unique consideration; something that broad policies and rigid policy enforcement are not the best at doing.