June 7, 2004
New Mexico Public Education Department
300 Don Gaspar
Santa Fe, NM 87501-2786

Ruth Williams
Public Outreach Director
(505) 476-0393

New Mexico's Public Schools Become Safer for Students

(Santa Fe, NM)--New Mexico's public school students, staff and parents are increasingly safe in school, according to the 2001-2002 Safe Schools Report issued in May 2004 by the Public Education Department (PED). The report shows that the number of reported incidents of violence and vandalism is at its lowest point in four years.

“New Mexico is responding to safety concerns in the public schools with proactive measures that are increasingly effective. While we celebrate the decrease in violence and vandalism, we recognize that even one act is one act too many,” said Secretary of Education Dr. Veronica C. García.

To access the 2001-2002 Safe Schools Report, please visit the PED’s School Health web site at http://www.ped.state.nm.us/resources/downloads/safe.schools.report.01.02.pdf.

For the report, the PED interviewed school principals and district staff about school safety, asking them to identify the greatest safety issues facing schools today. Several identified bullying as the most common safety problem. They also identified outside influences that can impact student safety and well being, including being vigilant about outsiders coming into the school without valid reasons, the presence of drugs and alcohol in the community or homes and a lack of parental supervision at home. Open communication was identified as an important ingredient for safe schools.

“Students need to be comfortable reporting safety concerns to teachers. Parents need to be informed and involved, and the community needs to be included in planning for contingencies in the event of emergencies,” said Secretary Dr. García.

The report will be used by the School Safety Advisory Task Force, formed as a result of House and Senate memorials to develop recommendations to address safety awareness and implement strategies for new safety features in the state’s schools. The 2004 memorials were passed in response to last year’s murder in Albuquerque of a teacher as she graded papers after school.

Results from the 2001-2002 Safe Schools Report include the following:

· 7,146 violent incidents in the schools were reported during 2001-2002, nearly 12% fewer than in 2000-2001. Vandalism accounted for 18% of all incidents of violence and vandalism. Since 1998-99, incidents of violence and vandalism have decreased by 19%, from a high of 17,616 in 1998-99 to 14,253 in 2001-2002;

· Drug violations, which had risen in the previous four years, dropped 17%, from 2804 in 2000-2001 to 2328 in 2001-2002.

· The largest change during the past four years (since 1998-99) has been in the number of incidents of violent crime committed by individuals from outside the school. The number dropped from a high of 186 in 1998-99 to only 10 in 2001-2002;

· Vandalism incidents cost the public schools, staff, students and parents more than $1 million for the 2001-2002 school year, half the cost from 2000-2001. But the cost per incident increased, due to increases in labor costs. The cost of graffiti damage, for example, more than tripled from an average of $71 per incident for 2000-2001 to an average of $231 per incident for 2001-2002;

· Incidents of arson, only 2.5% of all vandalism incidents, were 10% higher;

· Firearm possession remained rare. Thirty incidents of firearm possession were reported in 2001-2002, representing 4.2% of all weapons incidents. The number reported grew from 20 incidents in 2000-2001 to 30 incidents in 2001-2002. By contrast, the number of incidents involving knives or other weapons was lower. Knives and other cutting weapons were down from 643 incidents in 2000-2001 to 557 incidents in 2001-2002. Other weapons decreased from 245 incidents in 2000-2001 to 126 incidents in 2001-2002;

· Students were reported as being responsible for all of the reported weapons incidents and as the primary offenders of violent incidents. They also accounted for the majority of the victims of violent crimes. Of the 7,166 incidents of violence in 2001-2002 where the victim was reported, 90.65% were students, 5.01% were teachers, 2.4% were individuals from outside the school, 1.23% were other school employees and less than one percent (.71%) was administrators;

· The number of incidents of gang activity and alcohol violations has declined from 1997-98 to 2001-2002. Gang activity decreased by 85%, from 625 to 94 incidents, and alcohol violations decreased by 30%, from 709 to 491 incidents; and

· Suspensions constituted the largest number of disciplinary actions – nearly 57%.

Since 1989, New Mexico’s 89 school districts have reported incidents of violence and vandalism for the period of July 1 to June 30. In 1997-98, New Mexico became the first state in the nation to require all schools to develop and implement comprehensive safe school plans that include prevention, policies and procedures and emergency response. The PED is currently in the process of developing guidance for safe schools plans to include “postvention” or how to respond after an incident has occurred.