WASHINGTON - Only 52 of the nation's 91,000 public schools are labeled persistently dangerous by their states, findings that allow students in those schools to transfer to safer places but deny a similar option for tens of millions of other children.
Schools not on the list are not necessarily crime-free. Nearly 700,000 violent crimes were reported in America's schools in 2000, the last year for which government numbers were available.
The new school year marks the first time states must define and identify their most dangerous schools and let students at those schools enroll elsewhere in their district. Most states have responded by declaring they have no schools fitting that description.
Forty-four states reported not a single unsafe school. The exceptions were Pennsylvania (28), Nevada (eight), New Jersey (seven), Texas (six), New York (two) and Oregon (one).
At a time when campuses use a range of tools to halt crime, from metal detectors to full-time police officers, 99.9 percent of schools got passing safety grades, based on self-reported data.
The order to designate unsafe schools is part of federal law designed to hold schools accountable and give students choices. But to some school advocates, the small number identified is so implausible it renders the ordered assessment meaningless.
"The states are sending a false sense of security to parents, and it creates a laxity among educators in terms of school safety," said Kenneth Trump, a national school safety consultant. "It's like a government Grade A stamp of approval saying everything is safe and fine."