Several Houston-area school districts are changing the way they publish violent and criminal incidents after KHOU 11 Investigates discovered a lack of transparency in posting annual gun crimes online.
The findings concern parents like Anjali Vyas, who is still shaken from the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting on Feb. 14 that killed 17 people.
“When I heard about Florida, oh my God, I just started crying,” she said.
Vyas has two daughters who attend schools in the Fort Bend Independent School District.
"I want to know everything, but I don't have any information,” Vyas said.
State law requires school districts to publish violent or criminal incidents annually, and break it down by type.
However, the only information Fort Bend ISD had published online was a total number of violent and criminal incidents: 1,146 for the 2016-17 school year. There was no breakdown of gun crimes.
Other school district websites also did not include yearly firearm violation numbers. Alief, Katy, Klein and Spring did not specify the type of violent or criminal incidents online.
“That's unacceptable,” said Alief ISD parent Ida Kennedy.
“People's lives are at stake, basically that's what it boils down to,” added parent Kim St. Mary.
“The school has no explanation for it. They don't want to let the truth out,” said parent Jessie Staten.
Many school districts did offer explanations and pledged to immediately correct and update information online. Alief and Fort Bend ISDs updated their websites this week to include firearms incidents.
“There was no effort from the District to intentionally withhold the information,” said Alief ISD spokesperson Craig Eichhorn. "We take full responsibility for not being aware that this specific data was to be included in our Annual Performance Review."
Fort Bend ISD and Spring ISD also pledged to update their websites accordingly.
“We will use this as a learning opportunity to ensure processes are in place to post all appropriate information online,” said Fort Bend ISD spokesperson Amanda Bubela.
“We believe it was a minor oversight and we intend to get it corrected,” said Spring ISD spokesperson Karen Garrison.
A Klein ISD spokesperson said its interpretation of the law does not include firearms violations as a required reporting category. But the district is giving it another look.
“Klein ISD takes seriously the reporting requirements and while our interpretation of such requirement, in this instance has been different, we commit to a review of that process,” said Klein ISD spokesperson Judy Rimato.
Despite repeated requests for comment, Katy ISD did not provide explanations as to why they didn’t break down criminal incidents by firearm violations. Katy ISD also did not provide firearm violation totals at the district.
Fifteen of the 25 districts KHOU 11 Investigates questioned about criminal incident statistics publish all violent and criminal incidents, including firearm incidents, on their websites.
But other school districts had not published violent or criminal incidents on their websites whatsoever. These include Channelview, New Caney, Galena Park and Goose Creek independent school districts.
“It’s not in our annual report posted to our website—that was an inadvertent oversight, which we are getting corrected,” said Goose Creek ISD spokesperson Elizabeth Dombrowa.
Spokespeople for Channelview ISD and Galena Park ISD said their districts are working to update their websites as quickly as possible.
New Caney ISD spokesman Scott Powers said the district is “committed to transparency” and is now reviewing its reporting practices.
“The District will take any necessary actions to ensure compliance with all reporting requirements,” Powers said.
Education advocates said it’s not the first time they’ve seen school districts be less than forthcoming with releasing sensitive information.
“Historically with data, we find that schools mask data, we find that schools sometimes hide the data, they don't want to tell some of these stories,” said Dr. Robert Sanborn, president of the educational research and advocacy non-profit Children at Risk.
Sanborn said transparency is critical when it comes to gun incidents on campus.
“I think what parents deserve to know is as much information as possible,” he said.
Many school districts pointed out that they report detailed information on gun incidents annually to the Texas Education Agency. However, Sanborn said the state’s website can be complicated for parents to navigate.
From the 2012-13 to 2016-17 school years, Houston ISD had the most gun incidents with 46, followed by Alief with 21, Cypress-Fairbanks with 20, Pasadena had 11; and Humble, which masks part of its data for privacy reasons, had at least 9.
The rankings change when district size is factored. Alief ISD had the highest rate of gun incidents per 1,000 students, followed by Deer Park, Humble, HISD and Pasadena.
“For school districts they just need to be transparent as possible about any of this information, so that parents and those that are interested have a better idea of what's going on,” Sanborn said.