By Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons
NORWALK, Conn. – Recent press coverage has given a false impression of violence in Norwalk’s schools. Excerpted data from two-year-old information in a state report vastly overstated violence in our schools, including the preposterous assertion that there is more violent behavior in the Norwalk schools than in Bridgeport’s. These false impressions need to be corrected.
First, it is important to note that the category of “violent crimes against persons” is inconsistently applied in Connecticut schools and includes actions that range from putting gum in another student’s hair up to stabbings or bomb threats. This is a ridiculous way to accumulate data and makes the number almost meaningless. If Norwalk outnumbers Bridgeport in “gum in hair” incidents by a bit more than Bridgeport outnumbers Norwalk in knife incidents, Norwalk gets ranked the “more violent” in this data set.
An examination of other data points in the same state report shows how absurd the local headlines on this topic were. Four other categories actually focus on the kinds of behavior that most parents and students would view as truly dangerous and violent. In all of them Norwalk ranks far behind Bridgeport, and in the mid-range of comparable school districts:
“Personally threatening behavior” – Norwalk, 174 incidents (1.7 percent of enrollment), Bridgeport, 1,124 incidents (5.6 percent of enrollment). Among DRG H (District Reference Group H) peers, Norwalk had a higher percentage than Danbury and Stamford, but a lower percentage than East Hartford and Meriden.
“Physical and verbal confrontation” – Norwalk, 170 incidents (1.6 percent), Bridgeport 1,726 incidents (8.6 percent); again, among DRG H peers, Norwalk had a higher percentage than Danbury and Stamford, but a lower percentage than East Hartford and Meriden.
“Fighting” – Norwalk, 207 incidents (2 percent), Bridgeport 2,383 incidents (11.9 percent); among DRG H peers, Norwalk was higher than Stamford but lower than Danbury, East Hartford and Meriden.
“Weapons possession” – Norwalk, 23 incidents (0.2 percent), Bridgeport, 89 incidents (0.4 percent); among DRG H peers, Norwalk was lower than all of Stamford, Danbury, East Hartford and Meriden.
So, simply looking at Bridgeport (the city the local media decided to compare Norwalk with), Bridgeport’s schools had 6.5 times as many incidents of personally threatening behavior as Norwalk’s; 10.2 times as many physical and verbal confrontations; 11.5 times as many incidents of fighting; and 3.9 times as many incidents of weapons possession. Yet some local media proclaimed that “Norwalk schools lead in violence.”
It is no wonder that some people in Norwalk have given up on our school system, given the kind of headlines the local press sometimes chooses to write. Responsible journalists would have looked beyond one number in a large report and identified the crucial information I have summarized above, information that utterly disproves the headlines.
This doesn’t mean Norwalk has no disciplinary problems in its schools; of course it does. But we have taken steps to address our relatively small (compared to Bridgeport) problems, implementing a pilot program called PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support), which has already led to drops in these disciplinary problems.
The safety and security of our schools is a priority, and we are taking steps to improve them. More accurate reporting (and particularly more accurate headlines) about the situation in our schools would go a long way to allaying the concerns of parents unfortunately generated by this press coverage.