Lawmakers call for change after CALL7 Investigation reveals unreported crimes in Colorado schools

Stakeholder meetings planned before 2015 session

DENVER - Colorado lawmakers are calling for change after a 7NEWS Denver Post joint investigation found schools failing to report crimes on campus to the Colorado Department of Education.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools must report incidents including assaults, robberies, and weapon violations to the state. The data is supposed to help officials and parents get a clearer understanding of what goes on inside schools.

But our investigation found all too often, that doesn’t happen. In the 2012-2013 school year alone, the Denver Police Department reported 127 arrests or citations for assaults at schools that reported no assaults to the CDE.

"It leaves the public with very little information about what's happening," said Kevin Welner, Executive Director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Welner has spent decades researching various school reporting laws and policies across the country. He says the public needs accurate, comprehensive data about school violence.

"It allows us to ask very important questions, like 'What's going on here?'" Welner said. "But we currently don't have the data available in terms of the reporting to answer that question."

Welner's center conducted its own discipline reporting study in 2012, finding Colorado's system -- despite its flaws -- was still better than many other states.

"That speaks less to how good of a job Colorado is doing and more to the large neglect across the country of these issues," Welner said.

Democratic state Senator and former Adams County School teacher Rachel Zenzinger said the investigation showed her that Colorado's system needs improvement.

"I read the story and watched online and thought, 'Yeah, we've got a problem here. What are we gonna do?" Zensinger said.

She said the first thing to fix is how the state defines incidents, by analyzing whether Colorado's system is too broad in some categories or even too specific in others.

The CALL7 Investigators found, state-wide in the 2012-2013 school year, schools reported 79% of all "law enforcement referrals" -- incidents that were serious enough to call police -- in categories that CDE itself defines as less severe -- including "Detrimental Behavior" and "Other Violations of Code of Conduct."

"How specific do we want to be before we end up with another issue of under reporting, over reporting? We need to find the right balance," Zenzinger said.

Zenzinger may find allies on the other side of the aisle next legislative session. State Representative Polly Lawrence,a Republican, agrees that it's time for a chance.

"I appreciate you digging into this," Lawrence told the CALL7 Investigators. "I think what we need to do is revisit the laws that were passed, make sure we have the correct legislative oversight."

"We have a choice of where we send our kids," she said. "And we want to make sure we're making that decision based on all the information available."

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If you have a news tip or follow-up to this story, e-mail Keli Rabon. You can also connect with me on Facebook or through Twitter @KeliRabon.

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