Education

Report Says Fewer Weapons Found in City Schools

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PATERSON, NJ – The number of weapons confiscated in city schools dropped by more than 33 percent during the 2011-12 academic year, according to a report issued by Paterson education officials.

The report also said the number of instances of vandalism at city schools fell by more than 50 percent, from 38 to 18, while the number of cases of reported violence stayed virtually the same, rising from 108 to 109.

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The district’s security director, James Smith, presented the report to the Board of Education at its January 9 workshop session.  He said the number of confiscated weapons went from 36 in 2010-11 to 23 in 2011-12. Seventeen of the weapons fell under the category for knifes and similar items, Smith said. One was mace, two were air-pellet guns and three were in the “other” category. No regular guns were among those found in city schools, Smith said.

Some board members weren’t buying the violence statistics. “I’m still baffled and confused by some of the numbers I’m getting in this report,’’ said board member Errol Kerr.

Kerr said the monthly reports that board members receive on school suspensions stemming from fights seem to indicate that the number of incidents of violence would be far higher than the 109 that were reported.

Smith some of the incidents included in the monthly suspension reports might not meet the criteria to be included in the annual violence report submitted to the state.

“This is like nothing happens,’’ said Kerr. “I’m not saying they’re sanitized…’’

“They’re not,’’ Smith interjected.

Board member Alex Mendez said there’s a culture at some schools not to report all incidents. “They try to keep it inside the buildings,’’ Mendez said of the information about violence incidents. “That’s the reality.’’

Smith said the district’s security department works in conjunction with the Paterson Education Association, the union representing city teachers, to ensure the violence reports are as complete as possible. The union submits its own list of incidents to the security department, which then determines whether they fit the criteria for inclusion in the annual report, Smith said.

Union members reported 103 incidents of violence, 30 cases of vandalism and 10 weapons, according to a copy of a PEA report provided by Peter Tirri, president of the union. Tirri said he believed the number of incidents in the district was being under-reported.

Tirri said the mentality of not reporting such problems dates back to the early 1990s and the administration of Laval Wilson, Paterson’s first state-appointed superintendent. “He created a mentality and fear that if you had a lot of violence and vandalism incidents you weren’t doing a good job and you had to be replaced,’’ Tirri said.

Tirri said the union has told its members that they were required under the law to file reports about any incidents they witnessed. “Some of them are reluctant to report because they’re afraid of retaliation,’’ Tirri said.

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