Education Law

Dangerous Schools and the No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act (the "Act") was signed into law in 2002 by President Bush. It's been one of the most sweeping changes to elementary and secondary education. The Act completely changed the role of the federal government and states in K-12 education.

The Act put more focus on a school's success by measuring student achievement. It also contains the President's four basic education reform principles:

  • Stronger accountability for results
  • Increasing flexibility and local control
  • Expanding options for parents, and
  • An emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work

"Persistently Dangerous" Schools

A part of the Act allows children to transfer to a different school if theirs is determined to be "persistently dangerous."

Schools are considered "persistently dangerous" if they have two consecutive years of serious incidents that meet each state's criteria.

What Are Serious Incidents?

Serious incidents include:

Schools take into consideration the ratio of violent incidents to enrollment in the school and examine the number and type of incidents. Each incident is given a score depending on its seriousness. These scores are added, and the result is divided by the school enrollment. This yields the school violence index.

What Is Considered "Persistently Dangerous"?

A school is considered "persistently dangerous" if for two consecutive years, it has either:

  • A school violence index of 1.5. This is about 6 incidents per 100 students, or
  • At least 60 serious incidents and a school violence index of at least 50

When a School Is Designated "Persistently Dangerous"

All schools found "persistently dangerous" must allow its students to transfer and provide them with choices. On a positive note, each school also receives financial support and technical assistance to help improve the school's safety.

Corrective Action

School districts must submit an incident reduction plan for approval to the State Education Department for each designated school. This is to show the specific steps the district will take to reduce the number of violent incidents and improve safety at the school.

Successful schools have adopted one or more of these strategies:

  • Developed and enforced the district's code of conduct
  • Developed safety plans and building response plans to deal with serious situations
  • Gave students close support from adult mentors and guides
  • Provided information regarding areas of concern that need intervention

Potential Dangerous Consequences

While the Act has been responsible for improving safety in many schools, it also has potential negative consequences. For instance, to avoid creating a politically dangerous relationship with local districts, state education officials may feel pressured to create definitions of "persistently dangerous" that local schools may never meet. Also, inconsistency between each state's definitions may lead to legal challenges.

In addition, principals may feel pressure to underreport, or not report, school crime because a "persistently dangerous" label has serious implications for school administrators.

These factors could result in increased violence and crime and more discipline problems. They could also result in less violence prevention programs since there are fewer funds. In the end, the Act may actually end up creating less safe schools.

As commented by Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, "At best, it is well intended legislation being lost in the politics of implementation. No principal wants his or her school being slapped with the label of being 'persistently dangerous' and each time that administrator considers reporting an incident of crime or violence in the future, you can be assured that principal will think twice before adding one more incident to a list which could push that school closer to being called 'persistently dangerous'."1

As a result, while the No Child Left Behind Act has been leading to many positive changes in many states, there are still gaps. States must continue to actively monitor schools and make sure that their rules aren't resulting in a counterproductive outcome.


1Persistently Dangerous Schools, National School Safety and Security Services, available at, accessed Oct. 20, 2009.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If a school is persistently dangerous, what does the law provide regarding transfers to another school, and what kinds of limits can school districts place on such transfers?
  • What can parents do if they think that a school isn't properly reporting crimes or violence to avoid the "persistently dangerous" classification?
  • Can the community demand that a school remove dangerous students from a school and place them in an alternative school?
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