Violent incidents reported in Pennsylvania’s schools rose nearly 21 percent in the 1998-99 school year compared to the previous year, according to a report released in August, but education officials attributed at least part of the increase to schools being more likely to report incidents.

Some school districts may have varying interpretations of what constitutes a “violent incident” on school grounds, said Dan Langan, a spokesman for the Education Department.

“A district that historically might not have reported a shoving incident in the hallway might now be reporting that,” Langan said, which could account at least partly for the increased number of reported incidents.

The number of attacks on teachers and other school staff also rose—by about 12 percent—during the same school year, the report said.

Compiled by the state Department of Education’s office of safe schools, the document relies on data supplied by school districts. A state law passed in 1995 requires districts to track violent incidents, weapons possession, and convictions or adjudications for crimes committed on school property.

Not all the statistics in the report were discouraging.

The number of incidents involving weapons used on school grounds, for instance, decreased nearly 17 percent, to 4,863 incidents over the previous school year. That number has decreased nearly 50 percent since 1995.

Schools reported 145 incidents involving firearms, including 59 handguns, 15 rifles or shotguns, and 71 other firearms, including starter pistols and flare guns. Overall, the number of incidents involving firearms on school grounds was down about 21 percent over the previous year.

A total of 1,982 incidents involving knives, razors, and other cutting implements were reported.

During the 1998-99 school year, districts reported 41,766 incidents of violence or weapons possession, compared to 34,540 incidents reported the year before.

While assaults on students dropped about 5 percent, reports of fighting and assaults on staff both increased. There were 2,395 reported assaults on staff, up from 2,133 in the 1997-98 school year.

The report also shows that schools contacted local law enforcement about 13,000 times in 1997-98, resulting in nearly 4,000 arrests. Schools booted students out for violent offenses at a greater rate than previous years.