Taxpayer-supported National Public Radio conducted a study that shows that the overwhelming number of incidents reported by the federal government as school shootings never actually occurred. The federal report was conducted by the Department of Education (DOE), which offered alarming statistics on 235 supposed school shootings in just one year.
NPR contacted each one of the schools chronicled in the DOE report, which was conducted by the DOE Office for Civil Rights. Focusing on the 2015-2016 school year, the DOE report asserts that “nearly 240 schools…reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” However, after 90 days and every school contacted, new statistics were revealed by NPR. According to the outlet, more than two-thirds of the firearms incidents never happened. NPR stated: “We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.”
Schools were asked by the DOE: “Has there been at least one incident at your school that involved a shooting (regardless of whether anyone was hurt)?” The NPR article continues:
“In 161 cases, schools or districts attested that no incident took place or couldn’t confirm one. In at least four cases, we found, something did happen, but it didn’t meet the government’s parameters for a shooting. About a quarter of schools didn’t respond to our inquiries.”
Furthermore, an official at Child Trends -- a nonprofit research organization that assisted NPR -- said, “When we’re talking about such an important and rare event, [this] amount of data error could be very meaningful.”
DOE has not retracted its report, having stated that it gets its information from the various school districts across the country. School districts are implementing costly programs, including teacher training, reinforcement of school safety measures such as armored doors and bullet-proof glass, on the basis of studies such as the one released by DOE. The NPR report said, “Our reporting highlights just how difficult it can be to track school-related shootings and how researchers, educators and policymakers are hindered by a lack of data on gun violence.”
The NPR report noted:
"This confusion comes at a time when the need for clear data on school violence has never been more pressing. Students around the country are heading back to school this month under a cloud of fear stemming from the most recent mass shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas.
"At least 53 new school safety laws were passed in states in 2018. Districts are spending millions of dollars to "harden" schools with new security measures and equipment. A blue-ribbon federal school safety commission led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is holding public events around the country, including one in Alabama Tuesday. Children are spending class time on active-shooter drills and their parents are buying bulletproof backpacks."
The DOE published its report without apparent reference to a gun safety database produced by Everytown for Gun Safety -- a group founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, which has been critical of Second Amendment rights. Stats produced by Everytown show that there were 57 incidents of gun violence in American schools so far this year. For the year DOE had listed 235 shootings, Everytown calculated only 29. “There is little overlap between this list and the government’s, with only seven schools appearing on both,” NPR said.
The report revealed some creative editing on the part of DOE. While the DOE report claimed that there were four shootings among the 16 schools of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California, a school official there told NPR that no one at the district can recall any incident involving firearms over the last 20 years. The official surmised that an error in coding school-related incidents may be to blame, "where an incident involving something like a pair of scissors (California Education Code 48915[c]), for example, got inflated into one involving a firearm (48915[c])."
Child Trends stated on its website:
"As the Florida and Texas school shootings loom large in the public eye, the public deserves an accurate understanding of the frequency of such events. To ensure that researchers avoid either creating unnecessary alarm or understating the potential risk to students, they must carefully consider the nuances of available data sources."