Gang-related incidents, assaults on employees at all-time high in schools

By Lauren Sweeney, Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - According to data from the Texas Education Agency, instances of terroristic threat, gang-related incidents and assaults on employees reached a five-year high during the 2014-2015 school year for districts in Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston, Montgomery and Brazoria counties.

TEA data shows in the 2014-2015 school year there were 200 reported incidents of “assault (of) district employees,” 202 reported incidents of “terroristic threat,” and 52 reported incidents involving some type of gang activity.

Taylor and Elsik high schools in the Alief School District reported the most gang-related incidents during the last school year with a combined total of 16. However, Alief officials told Channel 2 Investigates the numbers do not reflect a widespread problem, rather an aggressive stance toward documenting and reporting anything seemingly gang-related.

Alief officials said everything from gang-related drawings on a notebook or T-shirt, to someone flashing gang signs are reported to the state.

Even students in the district told KPRC 2 News it is only a handful of kids causing trouble.          

“They see what they see on TV and they want to live that life,” said one student.

Another student said, “They're just young. They don't really know how they're living."

App users, click here to see a list of schools with between 1 and 5 incidents of discipline by offense.

[List controls: Mouse/scroll down to see the school districts in alphabetical order, or across to view dropdown by school]

Dr. Roberto LaCarra heads a criminology program at the University of St. Thomas and knows firsthand the problems gang influence can have in schools.

“My brother was a gang leader,” said LaCarra. “There's always a risk of other kids being recruited."

LaCarra said school officials and family members immediately dealing with the first signs of gang influence is key to stopping a child from being recruited.

“If your kid is going to school, that means he's not a hardcore gang member. That means there is still hope for him,” said LaCarra.

President of the Houston Federation of Teachers, Zeph Capo, said a growing disrespect for authority is fueling some of the problems seen in schools across the area.

“We’ve got to send a very early message that consequences matter, your behavior matters,” said Capo.

State records during the last school year show Cypress Ridge High School reported six incidents of “assault, district employee,” more than any other school in the area. However, officials with Cy-Fair ISD believe the numbers only show an isolated problem.

“These incidents occurred when administrators were responding to a disagreement among students, only one involved a teacher. Any incident is one too many and unacceptable. We continuously work with our staff on effective strategies for intervening and de-escalating student behaviors. Our numbers have dropped to one this school year. I appreciate our staff being positive role models and always striving to keep our campus safe,” Principal Stephanie Meshell wrote in a statement to KPRC 2 News.

In the category of “terroristic threat,” Westfield High School in Spring ISD reported the highest number with 11 incidents.

In statement to KPRC 2 News, Spring ISD officials wrote, “The rankings listed for schools in Spring ISD are disappointing, however the safety and security of our students and staff are always our highest priorities and we are constantly looking at new ways to improve systems and practices to ensure that our schools are safe. That includes an ongoing review of discipline data reports. During that review, we have identified some inaccuracies in the coding of incidents as terroristic threats and have implemented a software application to improve this process districtwide.

"Additionally, in the last year, we have taken several steps to improve our discipline management processes districtwide. This year we revamped our discipline management plan and implemented proactive strategies for classroom management that outline ways for staff members to set expectations for students ahead of time, communicate those expectations effectively, build and improve relationships and ultimately reduce inappropriate behaviors. The district supports this new plan through ongoing training and coaching.

"Each year, we will continue to review discipline data and management practices as we work to provide safe learning environments for students and staff.”

Social media has made threats at schools a problem for every district. Lee and Sterling high schools in Goose Creek ISD reported a combined 21 incidents during the last school year. In January, the district was forced to evacuate and search several schools because of a threat posted on Instagram.

“The Internet and increased use of social media over the last several years provide people with ample opportunities to misbehave online, even when they are not being serious or believe they are anonymous," district officials wrote in a statement to KPRC 2 News. "Nevertheless, as the safety and security of our students is always our top priority, we will not take likely any threat against our students or staff, even if the threat is not credible. Any discipline administered will be in accordance with our student code of conduct."

App users, click here to see a list of schools with 5 or more incidents of discipline by offense.

[List controls: Mouse/scroll down to see the school districts in alphabetical order, or across to view dropdown by school]

2016 Click2Houston.com/KPRC 2