Records acquired through the state’s Open Records Act appear to show that the Bibb County school system is inconsistent in its tracking of disciplinary actions.
For example, the district reported a very different number of student suspensions to the state than it reported internally. But school officials say the discrepancy is simply the difference between preliminary numbers and the final, accurate statistics sent to the state Department of Education.
“There’s no reason to fix the numbers to be other than what they are,” said Ed Judie, the system’s assistant superintendent for student affairs. “There’s no conspiracy to lower the numbers. I just want to be very clear about that.”
An internal document obtained through an Open Records Act request compared the number of different types of discipline actions taken over the last three school years. It showed, for example, 9,242 in-school suspensions for the 2011-12 school year, almost twice as many as the 4,656 in-school suspensions reported to the state.
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For the same year, 28 expulsions were reported to the state, while 17 were reflected in the internal documents.
Judie said in several interviews that there were 17 expulsions. He also stated that the use of in-school suspensions had increased, rather than dropped, as the state’s numbers indicate.
But Judie said the numbers reported to the state were accurate. The internal document, he said, was a snapshot created at his request before the final numbers had been checked for repetition and other accuracy issues.
The school system also reported to the state that it referred 27 students to Bibb County Juvenile Court in 2011-12 and 25 students in 2010-11. But court records show that at least 540 cases came to the court from the school district during the most recent school year, with at least 605 the previous year.
Safe Havens International, a company hired by the school system to assess school safety, said it found significant underreporting of discipline problems, including crimes.
Its report, made public in a redacted form last week after an open records request by The Telegraph, stated: “We feel that the accuracy of reported data in the district is not only suspect, but is in fact unreliable.”
It went on to explain that it’s impossible to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies without reliable data.
For example, most assaults with a weapon that happen at schools relate to fights. A high number of fights means students are more likely to bring weapons to school and use them to attack other students, the report noted.
But even under contract with the school district, Safe Havens itself could not get access to information about how many fights took place or how many weapons were recovered from students during the last school year.
Judie said the system “will always consistently look to find anything that’s underreporting, because there’s a lot of things at risk here.”
He added, “If you do not report accurate data, then you’re doing a disservice to your community. ... You want to find out where those problems are so that you can put systems in place so that teachers, students and the community know that children are safe in school.”
Dorie Turner Nolt, assistant direction of communications for the state education department, said any discrepancies in data provided by local school districts have always been related to entry errors or software problems. When this comes up -- and it’s not unusual -- the state helps school systems learn how to enter information properly, and it will offer this assistance to Bibb, she said.
“No one has ever submitted incorrect numbers to the state,” Nolt said. “Because people have to sign off on this, their reputation is on the line.”
State officials have neither found nor heard about any problems with Bibb’s numbers, she said.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.