Local 2 investigates crime at Houston schools

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - From brawls, to gang violence and drugs in the hallways; crime on schools campuses is a bitter reality for many districts. To understand which campuses are seeing the most trouble, Local 2 Investigates obtained a database of all reported school crime from the Texas Education Agency.

Schools are required to report campus crime to the TEA and Local 2 requested this data for four school years covering independent school district campuses in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Brazoria and Galveston counties.

Local 2 then looked at the three categories of crime most likely to affect children on a regular basis; drugs, fights and gang violence.

According to state records Alief ISD's Elsik High School reported the most instances of gang related violence during a four year period. The data shows 25 incidents involving 26 students.

The gang influence confronting these kids is clearly seen in the graffiti marking several fences and signs in the neighborhoods surrounding campus. None of the Elsik students Local 2 tried to speak with would talk about gang incidents on campus.

"Just think about the environment we're in right now," said resident Jonah Williams. "You got the school and then you got the neighborhood right here."

Alief ISD officials declined to speak with Local 2 Investigates on camera but sent a written statement.

"Alief ISD puts the safety and security of all students first and foremost. Our campus administrators, especially at the large high schools, utilize multiple methods to make sure that what occurs in the community stays in the community and does not interfere with campus instructional time. Please also keep in mind that some incidents are coded as gang-related when they are not truly gang actions. There are also some incidents mistakenly coded as gang-related that are performed by students who are not in gangs but displayed some sort of gang behavior," Alief ISD public information officer Craig Eichorn wrote.  Read more of the district's statement at the end of this story.

Officials with the civic group Texans Together are also working with Alief to determine what resources are needed in the community to help keep kids away from the gang life.

"Instead of just assuming what they need, it's just more trying to get that dialogue going to find out what they're really looking for," said Texans Together coordinator, Francisco Garcia.

When it comes to fights on campus, Spring ISD's Dekaney High School had the highest number. State records show Dekaney officials reported 666 fights on campus involving 698 students in four school years.

The state's data shows the number of fights is now declining at Dekaney, but some students at the campus told Local 2 the stigma remains.

"I don't like that, just because I attend Dekaney High School that I'm a heathen just like the rest of them," said Alexzander Johnson.

"Dekaney has a record of being bad, yeah. But don't let us do one bad thing and just think we're the nation's criminals," said student Jaunya Spiller.

Spring ISD officials also declined to speak with Local 2 on-camera. District officials sent a written statement.

"Providing a safe and secure learning environment for our students and staff district wide is the highest priority for Spring ISD. As a district, we have focused our attention on prevention and intervention measures and are showing a significant reduction in the number of fights reported," wrote Spring ISD's Karen Garrison. "It is important to note that "fighting" is defined in the district's Discipline Management Plan as, ‘Physical contact with another student made in anger or retaliation, regardless of the initiator.' All incidents that fit this definition are reported."

"Dekaney High School has approximately 2,300 students. The data you provided us regarding the school shows a substantial decrease in the number of fights that were reported: from 234 in the 2010-11 school year to 151 in the 2011-12 school year and finally 124 in the 2012-13 school year. The continual decrease over time is significant and a positive sign that district measures are working."

Garrison's statement further explained the district has increased the number of officers on campus who, along with faculty, aggressively monitor for the potential of conflicts both at school and on social media.

In the category of drugs, North Shore High School in the Galena Park ISD had the highest number in four years. State records show the school reported 403 incidents involving 395 kids over a four school year period.

Galena Park ISD's Jonathan Frey is the only school official who spoke with Local 2 on camera. Frey said the number of drugs found may sound high, but only represents 2-percent of the students at North Shore. Frey also said the district has worked hard to create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable letting staff know when they see drugs on campus. Frey said part of this done through parent volunteers interacting with kids at school every day.

"The kids trust them and can talk to them," said Frey. "There's that familiar face, but they're not necessarily a teacher in a classroom, they're not somebody who can give them a grade or a detention."

Frey also added this written statement regarding the number of drugs found on campus.

"Galena Park ISD is focused on safety and academic excellence. We have zero tolerance for drugs on our campuses, but we also realize that some students need extra help and guidance. If a student is in possession or under the influence of any controlled substance, we will address it quickly and severely. If a student has a problem, we will help that student, either through our campus counselors, the district licensed chemical dependency counselor (LCDC), or any of our partnering agencies," Frey wrote.

Frey also provided Local 2 with a list of anti-drug activities the district has in place.

1)         Individual Drug Counseling
2)         Group Drug  Counseling
3)         Referrals for students in need to outside agencies
4)         Partnership for interventions with outside agencies
5)         Visible and active law enforcement on campus
6)         Crime Stoppers Hotline
7)         District Hotline
8)         Parent Meetings to develop awareness
9)         Community Meetings to develop awareness
10)      Red Ribbon Week Campaign in October
11)      Student led drug prevention and awareness campaigns
12)      Drug testing
13)      Drug prevention, use and abused staff development for teachers
14)      Random canine drug searches
15)      Award winning volunteer program on campus
16)      Licensed drug counselors on staff
17)      Counselor led presentation on late arrival days for students
18)      Counselor's Corner in cafeteria during lunch periods - Literature printed and support services listed
19)      Business partnership with emphasis on drug awareness and prevention
20)      Home visits to conduct assessments for students in need of support
21)      Presentations made to students by outside professionals  
22)      Established relationships with multiple law enforcement agencies
23)      Follow-up with students after serving in DAEP placement
24)      North Shore Student Council Activities 2013-2014

Alief ISD complete statement:

"Specifically, the staff at Elsik High School utilizes an aggressive, proactive approach to keep gang activity at a minimum on campus. Campus administrators receive training from the Alief ISD Safe and Civil Schools Department and the Alief Police Department (PD) Gang Intervention Officer. This training allows campus administrators to better identify and work with local gangs. Information gathered through these sources is not only shared with other campus personnel but also personnel from nearby campuses.  Campus administrators utilize this training to quickly identify potential gang members and to help prevent gang-related activity on campus.

Most importantly, the campus involves parents at the first sign of gang activity.  If a student is observed acting in a manner that indicates gang involvement, the student's parents are brought in for a Gang Intervention Parent Conference.  The conferences include discussion of the gang-related activities that were observed and counseling options available to both the parent(s) and the student. During these conferences, administrators and Alief ISD police officers share information about local gangs and determine if the student is displaying any signs of gang activity, such as clothing consistent with gang membership, gang hand signs or symbols or friends that are known gang members."

"During the conference, a form letter signed by all parties.  The parent receives a copy, a copy is kept on file in the assistant principal's office, a copy goes to the district's Pupil Personnel Manager, and one final copy is forwarded to Alief PD.  A discipline referral is entered for documentation; but, depending upon the details, the consequence may be as low as the administrator/parent conference (COPR).   The point of this conference is to intervene before a "gang-curious" student becomes a gang member. The documentation will go no further unless future gang activity is observed."

"In addition to the district procedures, campus administrators work with the community by actively supporting the City of Houston Mayor's Anti-Gang Office.  Campus personnel work with and provide appropriate assistance to the assigned representative. The Anti-Gang Office provides free case management, counseling, court based-assessment, mediation, referrals, recreation activities, school-based intervention strategies, job readiness assistance for youth offenders, truancy reduction, victims' assistance, and community education and training on gang awareness."

"As you can see, Alief ISD takes student safety very seriously and intervenes very early in the process in order to maintain a safe learning environment for students."

You can see the complete database of school crime for the last four years by clicking on the links in the 'Quick Clicks' section above on the left.

If you do view the databases and see a "-99" in a field, here's the explanation: "Federal privacy laws prevent the Texas Education Agency from releasing small numbers in categories because those small numbers could be used to identify specific students. When you see -99 listed in a category that means the number of incidents in that category is more than 0, but less than 5."

Click here for more information on the Crime Stoppers Safe Schools program.

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