The rate of crime on school grounds has gone up in the latest report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Across North Carolina, reported acts of student-related crime rose 2.1 percent to 10,347 offenses in school year 2014-15. Per 1,000 students, that comes to an average of 6.89 acts.
This bucks a trend from the previous three years when crime dropped per capita, going from 8.03 per 1,000 students to 7.63, then 7.20 and then 6.79.
Schools are required to report 16 offenses that can occur on school property, including possession of a gun, possession of a knife or other weapon, possession of drugs, assault on a teacher, sexual assault and beatings that result in serious injury.
According to DPI, of those 10,347 cases, only 229, or 2.2 percent, were for dangerous or violent offenses.
Along with those crimes, DPI reported on expulsions, long-term suspensions (more than two weeks) and short-term suspensions.
Across the state there were 42 expulsions, 1,085 long-term suspensions and 208,650 short-term suspensions. All of these are up slightly from the previous year.
Only four districts still allow paddling, and there were 147 instances in those schools, with first-graders receiving the most punishment by grade level.
Breaking down crimes by offense, possession of a controlled substance was the most common crime, with more occurrences than the next two highest combined at 4,672.
Possession of a weapon (not including firearms or explosives) was second with 3,052. Third was assault on a teacher or other school personnel at 1,272. Fourth was possession of alcohol at 950.
There is a big dropoff down to other crimes such as sexual assault (105), possession of a firearm (86), making a bomb threat (78), assault with a weapon (49), assault that results in serious injury (43) and sexual offense (28).
According to the report, Surry County Schools had 58 crimes throughout its 19 campuses, with an average daily attendance of 8,218. That amounts to a ratio of 7.06 acts per 1,000 students, right at the state average.
Mount Airy City Schools had 14 crimes among 1,612 students, a rate of 8.69 per 1,000.
Surry County Schools’ high schools (North Surry, East Surry, Surry Central and Early College) are credited with 36 crimes with an average daily attendance of 2,647. That comes to 13.6 acts per 1,000 students, twice the state rate of students overall.
That is higher than Mount Airy City Schools, Elkin City Schools, Stokes County and Wilkes County. However, it is less than Yadkin County, which is easily the highest rate in the area at 24.87 acts per 1,000. Yadkin County high schools had 43 crimes with 1,729 students.
Stokes County’s three high schools had 21 crimes and attendance of 2,136 for a rate of 9.83 per 1,000. Wilkes County had 36 crimes for 2,984 students, a rate of 12.06 per 1,000.
Mount Airy High School had three reported crimes with 523 students, a rate of 5.74 per 1,000.
Elkin High School had no reported crimes with 390 students. Elkin was one of only four districts across the state to have no reported crimes.
While Millennium Charter Academy doesn’t have a high school yet, the school did have one count of possession of a weapon among 486 lower-grade students, a rate of 2.06.
Going by crime breakdown, across its 19 campuses Surry County Schools had 24 counts of possession of a controlled substance, 15 counts of possession of a weapon, 12 counts of possession of alcohol, three counts of possession of a firearm, two counts of assault on staff members, one assault resulting in injury and a bomb threat.
Surry Central had two of the “firearms” charges, and North Surry the other one. North Surry had the most in any category with 10 charges for drug possession.
While high schools had the highest rates of crime statewide, in the city it was Tharrington Primary that had the most violations.
Tharrington, which only has children up to the second grade, had seven counts of possession of a weapon and one count of possession of a firearm or explosive device. The school also had one bomb threat for nine crimes in only 361 students, a rate of 24.93 per 1,000 students.
Jones Intermediate School had no crimes reported, and Mount Airy Middle had one charge for drug possession and one for weapon possession. The high school had two counts for weapons and one count for sexual assault.
The categories are quite broad and can include a variety of offenses, said SCS Assistant Superintendent Jeff Tunstall.
Tunstall said every county school incident comes across his desk, and he can assure parents there were no firearms at the high schools. The “explosive” component of that category includes firecrackers, and while firecrackers can cause injury and are banned, they don’t fall into the same level of threat as a handgun, he explained.
Similarly, Mount Airy City Schools noted that its one report from Tharrington didn’t involve a gun, either, but rather a child with a cigarette lighter who was striking the lighter. This represents a fire threat and falls into the category with firearms, but it certainly wasn’t a gun at the primary school.
The most common offense in the county schools is carrying a pocketknife, said Tunstall. Many of these children have fathers who grew up carrying a pocketknife regularly, and it isn’t seen as a big deal in the family.
In fact, he noted, a knife can be a nice gift that the child is proud to receive. He wants to show it off to his friends, so he takes it on the bus to display. However, because even a pocketknife can be used as a weapon, the items are banned from schools.
The categories make no distinction between a 3-inch pocketknife and a big Crocodile Dundee hunting knife, he said.
As for Mount Airy High having a rate lower than average, Dr. Kim Morrison, chief academic and innovation officer, attributed that to the time the teachers invest in the students.
“In MACS, we focus on building relationships, and this low trend has been consistent over the last several years,” said Morrison. “We invest heavily in developing our children’s leadership skills, and that translates to fewer discipline problems. An added bonus of a small school district is being able to create an environment where we are able to support the needs of every child.”
In Surry County Schools, there were 624 short-term suspensions. Tunstall said he is pleased that this number is down from past years. Considering how many children attend county schools (8,615 in the 2014-15 school year), this comes to 7.24 suspensions per 100 students.
The report broke that down by ethnicity.
White males accounted for 370 instances, white females 90. Then it was Hispanic males (73), black males (31), multiracial males (27) and Hispanic females (14).
There were less than 10 instances from black, multiracial, American Indian and Asian females, and there were less than 10 among Asian males.
Out of 8,615 students in the district, 6,298 were white, 1,895 were Hispanic, 189 were black and 181 were listed as multiracial.
Broken down, there is one suspension for every 8.5 white males, one for every 35 white females, one for every 13.0 Hispanic males and one for every 3.0 black males.
Mount Airy City Schools had 124 suspensions with white males (44) and black males (22) leading the way. Also with 10 or more instances were multiracial males (16), white females (13) and multiracial females (10).
Elkin City Schools had 35 suspensions. White males (14) were the only category with 10 or more instances.
Surry County Schools had five long-term suspensions, while the city districts had none. There were no expulsions listed for any local schools.
Millennium Charter had seven short-term suspensions and no long-term suspensions or expulsions.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.