Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
SPOTLIGHT: The US Department of Education is almost certainly spreading fake news about school homicides.
BIG PICTURE: A government document released in April claims there were 235 school shootings during the 2015-2106 school year. As I’ve discussed previously, when National Public Radio (NPR) did some fact-checking it was able to confirm only 11 such incidents.
As if that weren’t embarrassing enough, the document contains an equally dubious claim. It says that
over 100 schools (0.1 percent of all schools) reported a school-related homicide involving a student, faculty member, or staff member.
That’s not a credible number. A few years ago, a campus safety organization called Safe Havens International combed several government databases. It examined school-related deaths connected to a range of causes including playground accidents, school bus accidents, pedestrian fatalities on school property, tornados, bullying, gangs, suicides, and workplace interpersonal disputes.
Its big picture conclusion is that America experiences approximately 100 school-related deaths per year from all causes. For the 15 years spanning 1998 to 2012, an average of one third of all deaths were connected to transportation-related accidents. Another third were homicides. That’s a far cry from “over 100” homicides in one year.
Incidentally, only 4 out of 33 murders a year, on average, were due to active shooters. The 28-page 2014 study says 62 people – 50 students and 12 staff members – were killed by active shooters. Two-thirds (46) were the result of just three incidents – Columbine (1999), Red Lake (2005), and Sandy Hook (2012).
If the average number of school-related homicides is 33 per year, something highly unusual would need to have occurred in 2015-2016 for the government’s number to be accurate.
Wikipedia should always be taken with a grain of salt, but since it compiles a list of US school shootings, that’s worth examining. I’ve copied-and-pasted the portion of Wikipedia’s list that spans the 2015-2016 school year here in PDF format.
Eighteen incidents are listed. Nine concern colleges or universities and are therefore extraneous to our discussion (the government report concerns only elementary and secondary schools, as does the Safe Haven report). In six of the remaining cases, no deaths occurred. However, two 15-year-old girls did die on school property, apparently in a murder-suicide. A 15-year-old boy “was fatally shot during a fight after school hours that involved multiple people,” and one student was killed “when gunfire erupted” outside of a high school in the aftermath of a fire drill.
Wikipedia therefore records only four school deaths during 2015-2016. Safe Havens says 33 homicides is typical in a single year. Ergo we have good reason to be skeptical of the Department of Education’s claim of “over 100” school-related homicides. Unless and until that number is independently verified, no one should take it seriously.
Unfortunately, the department makes things even worse. Its April report combines these two dodgy assertions – concerning the number of school shootings and the number of school homicides – and spits out a third whopper:
About 1 out of every 100,000 students was enrolled in a school that reported a school-related shooting or school-related homicide during the 2015-16 school year.
This bleeping report needs to be withdrawn. According to NPR, however, the government has no intention of re-releasing it with corrected data. Instead, it will live out there on the Internet, warping our view of reality and fueling ill-informed policy decisions.
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