A computer glitch and lack of reporting by school districts have negated new laws designed to monitor violence in Michigan public schools.
A 1999 law required all Michigan school districts to report student expulsions to state schools Superintendent Arthur Ellis. However, only 16 percent of school districts reported the numbers. And the data reported were accidentally encrypted into unreadable form in the state Department of Education’s computers, department spokesman Brad Wurfel said.
“The superintendent is very concerned about this situation,” Wurfel told the Detroit Free Press for a story Sept. 14. “We are still looking into it, seeing what could be done, and staff are taking appropriate measure to ensure that this does not happen again.”
A department employee used the program incorrectly, queuing security measures which destroy data rather than allow it to fall into the hands of a hacker. No record remained of the electronically reported data.
The department is writing off the report for this year.
The first hint of the problem emerged when the Education Department denied the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan’s Freedom of Information request for the data.
“So much for how we all have to obey the law and gee whiz, isn’t it too bad that we have to throw children out because we all have to obey the law,” said Ruth Zweifler, the center’s executive director.
John Truscott, a spokesman for Gov. John Engler, said the responsibility for collecting school violence records may be moved to another department.
“First of all, we are very disappointed that so few school districts chose to follow the law,” Truscott said. “And second, we are absolutely furious at what happened once the information did get to the department. There is absolutely no excuse for it.”
Attempting to eliminate the environment of fear in traditional schools, a strict discipline academy has opened in Algonac with 23 students.
Blue Water Academy is a new type of charter school, allowed under a May 1999 law aimed at educating at-risk or expelled students. The academy accepts students in seventh through 11th grades.
Blue Water’s goal is to provide a safety net for those who have been caught by zero-tolerance policies that mandate expulsion for specific offenses, said Algonac Superintendent Dennis Guiser.
“There’s this need out there,” Guiser said. “Kids are out of school and need an education.”
As a charter school, Blue Water can accept students from other districts and even other counties. The students’ per-pupil state funding follows them to the charter school.
There are already 12 students on the waiting list to get in Blue Water and that number could rise once the computer glitch is repaired and the state has an accurate count of expelled students.