FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Many serious crimes that take place on Florida school campuses are never reported to the state as required by law, according to an investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
The investigation shows on average one in five schools in Florida fail to report a crime each year, and state officials largely take the schools at their word. Some crimes such as a teacher sexually abusing a student aren’t reported because they weren’t committed by a student. Many schools, seeking to protect their reputations, continue to file false information even after the state has warned them against it.
State guidelines require schools to report serious crimes like murder, rape and robbery, as well as minor incidents that wouldn’t bring law enforcement, such as possession of tobacco, fighting and bullying.
The Sun Sentinel examined 27,000 crime reports that Florida schools submitted to the Department of Education over the past 10 years. The newspaper then reviewed crime logs, police reports, school records and news coverage to identify discrepancies.
The probe followed the massacre of 17 people by a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February. School officials there had failed to report several incidents over the previous three years.
“If you’re having a problem at a school, it doesn’t get solved by painting a rosy picture and saying that it’s something other than what it is,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission. “In fact, it just makes the problem worse. It exacerbates it because you’re not solving it.”
The newspaper reported that a middle school in Boca Raton sent no reports to the state for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years even though a 7-year-old boy with autism reported that two classmates forced him into sex acts on the playground in November 2015.
“It may have been determined at the time of the incident that it did not rise to the level of a sexual offense,” said district spokeswoman Amity Schuyler.
Miami-Dade schools hid repeated instances of people strolling onto campus during the 2016-17 school year, an indication that a campus is vulnerable to attack, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
The school district cited computer errors for those and other omissions.
Schools generally make a good-faith effort to report crimes, said Audrey Walden, press secretary for the Florida Department of Education.
“When we do find anomalies, they are often remedied with training or technical assistance,” Walden said.
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