UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents want access to information about violent incidents at local schools this year so they can intervene and help keep them from being designated "persistently dangerous," as one local elementary school controversially did this past summer.
Schools earn the "persistently dangerous" (PDS) label from the state Education Department if they accumulate two years of reported incidents that rise above a certain violence-index threshold.
This summer, parents, education leaders and staff at P.S. 191 were caught off guard by the state's designation of the school as "persistently dangerous," not realizing that the high rate of incidents the previous year had set them up for receiving the designation that can't be changed until August.
While members of Community Education Council 3 agree that keeping schools off the PDS list — both in terms of on-the-ground safety and the harm to a school's reputation and recruitment efforts — is crucial, there was disagreement with the district's superintendent about how to achieve that.
Incident reports for P.S. 191 from this school year are not confidential but not yet available online. Department of Education Superintendent Ilene Altschul has so far refused to share them with CEC 3, said member Kim Watkins, who requested the data.
Watkins, who was co-president of the PTA at P.S. 191 when the PDS designation was delivered, witnessed the damage to the school's reputation and wants to prevent any other district school from facing the same fate, she said.
Though the new principal at P.S. 191 was not aware of the high level of incidents at the school when she began last fall, Altschul said principals in the district are currently aware of incident data. They're also working on any issues "internally," she said.
But some members argued the strategy doesn't go far enough and that PTA leaders, the School Leadership Team and parents should be informed and part of the solution.
"We have a responsibility to understand what’s going on at these schools. We have an additional responsibility for parents to know what the safety issues are at these schools," Watkins said.
"Stakeholders can put measures in place to prevent a second year of bad data," she added.
But Altschul is concerned about information going public.
By sharing data on violent incidents, as well as the school's potential to land on the PDS list, "you’re now putting a label on a school that could potentially hurt incoming students and families. You’re going to open this can of worms," she said.
CEC 3 member Nan Mead suggested that Altschul share the information with the council so that it could communicate with schools directly.
But CEC 3 and Altschul did not reach an agreement on how to proceed regarding the release of information.
"I don’t think we deserve to have another school on the [PDS] list," Watkins said.