Middle school incident reports top high schools for first time at LAUSD; suicidal behavior is up
Mike Szymanski | October 31, 2016
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For the first time since LA Unified has collected such data, the number of incidents involving fights, suicidal behavior, bullying, drugs and other disruptions on campuses was higher at middle schools than at high schools.
The district last week released the 2015-2016 iSTAR Annual Report, which stands for the Incident System Tracking Accountability Report. The report not only shows serious issues such as finding weapons or illegal drugs on students or staff, but also records accidents, medical issues, vandalism and bullying on every LA Unified campus. The reports are computerized and updated every five minutes and available to every administrator.
For the first time since the iSTAR numbers were collected and computerized six years ago, the number of incidents at the district’s 83 middle schools exceeded the number of incidents at the 98 high schools.
The number of middle school incidents hit 9,663 last school year, mostly involving suicidal behavior, injuries, fighting and physical aggression. In high schools last year, 9,597 incidents occurred mostly involving injuries, suicidal behavior and medical concerns, which include asthma, seizures, heat stress and intoxication.
By sheer numbers, the 452 elementary schools continue to have the most incidents. Last year 16,740 issues were reported mostly involving injuries, accidents, fighting and physical aggression.
“I’m concerned about the iSTAR statistics and what they indicate for the current state of our middle-grades students,” said school board member Ref Rodriguez, who has championed middle school education and helped start charter middle schools. “Ever since I founded a middle school in my community, I have always had a passion for serving our adolescent youth because of the stressors they feel socially, emotionally, physically and mentally. The data are unacceptable and reinforce my commitment to ensure that our schools provide the holistic supports and services that are necessary to truly combat these learning barriers.”
Overall, the number of issues reported rose 22 percent to 41,141 from the 2014-2015 school year. The year-over-year increase the year before had been 15 percent, and 7 percent the previous year.
It doesn’t mean that there are more incidents happening on campuses, but that teachers and administrators are better at reporting the issues into the iSTAR system, according to Earl R. Perkins, the associate superintendent of district operations.
“The iSTAR reporting system captures events that affect the district, its students, employees and surrounding communities,” Perkins said in his report. “With collaboration between schools and offices, authorized users and administrators of iSTAR can together achieve a more precise data set and a better analysis for the school community at large. The strategic operating plan is set and the bar has been raised for the new school year for continued improvements upon processing efficiency.”
Most of the incidents occurred at schools in the West and Central districts while the least amount occurred at schools in the Northwest and Northeast areas (mostly the San Fernando Valley).
One of the biggest concerns is suicidal behavior, which has increased from 4,607 in 2014-2015 to 4,981 last year. Most of the incidents are non-injury, but 1,548 incidents involved cutting and 673 incidents required hospitalization.
According to LA Unified’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 30 percent of high school students reported a prolonged sense of sadness or hopelessness every day for two or more continuous weeks, while 22 percent of middle school and 14 percent of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide.
“School personnel are instrumental in helping students and their families by identifying students at-risk and linking them to school and community mental health resources,” noted Perkins, referring to the district’s “Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention” plan, which offers a new series of brochures for help and guidance in both English and Spanish.
The iSTAR system also records incidents that happen off campus and on school buses. The data showed 241 incidents at adult education centers and 104 issues at charter schools that are co-located on district property. The iSTAR data show that incidents happen mostly between noon and 1 p.m., according to the report.
The report is used to identify where Restorative Justice, anti-bullying, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children or other preventive programs are most needed in the schools.
Of the 10 most reported issues, injuries, suicidal behavior, fighting and accidents were among the highest. The lowest in the top 10 were sex crimes, illegal substances and weapons. Board districts 2 and 7 (Mónica García’s and Richard Vladovic’s districts) had the most incidents, while board districts 3 and 4 (Scott Schmerelson’s and Steve Zimmer’s) had the least number of reports.
“We continue to focus on our efforts in looking at trends and improving our processes — considering the ever-changing iSTAR issues/features that are added each year to help enhance reporting,” Perkins said in the report. “In addition, we also work hard in raising awareness of incidents that impacts our students, staff and community.“