GAO: Physical Attacks Climbed in Schools From 2015-2018

GAO: Physical Attacks Climbed in Schools From 2015-2018 flowers sit on ground in front of school bus A makeshift memorial sits at Santa Fe High School to recover their belongings, a day after a mass shooting, May 19, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Monday, 06 December 2021 07:49 AM

A new Government Accountability Office report outlines the increasing dangers in American schools, including statistics showing that physical attacks with the use of a weapon nearly doubled during the early years of the Trump administration.

The report released in November was generated with the use of Education Department data and found that "hostile behaviors" in grades K-12 in public schools had risen drastically, including during the school years in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018, when attacks using weapons jumped by 97%, reports The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, hate crimes jumped by 81% and sexual assaults by 17%.

Jacqueline Nowicki, GOA's director of education, workforce, and income security issues, commented that there was no reason for the growth in attacks and hate crimes, but said that schools are "microcosms of their communities."

She added that the federal data doesn't give reasons for the increase in attacks, as "that's not the data the federal government collects."

The report may not include all instances of hostile behaviors, as such actions are "generally underreported to authorities" by victims, the report said.

Meanwhile, hostile behavior complaints to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which enforces school-related civil rights laws, dropped by 9% in the 2018-2019 school year and by 15% the next year.

The report, however, says that civil rights experts interviewed by the GAO said they were reluctant to file complaints because they'd lost confidence in the office's "ability to address civil rights violations in schools."

The loss of confidence may stem from the Trump administration's withdrawal of Obama-era discipline policies that were in place to "avoid and remedy discriminatory discipline," to protect transgender students, and to fight sexual harassment. The incoming administration said the policies weren't required or contemplated by law and pulled back on transgender policies to "more completely consider the legal issues involved," notes Post columnist Joe Davidson.

Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-Va., who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, requested the report.

"Unfortunately, the report shows that the Trump Administration’s education policies prevented students from seeking the help they needed as well as discouraged students, parents, and advocates from filing complaints with the Department of Education," Scott said in a statement.

The GAO also found that "bullying is widespread in schools nationwide" and hurt 5.2 million students from the ages 12 to 18, or about 20% of the school population during the 2018-2019 school year.

The report showed that students in middle school were more likely to be bullied, and students in smaller schools with 300 or fewer students were more likely to be victimized than students in schools with more than 1,000 attending.