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State officials propose new categories for tracking violent and disruptive behavior in school

The state’s Board of Regents proposed changes Monday to the widely criticized reporting system schools use to submit incidents like bullying, weapons possession and arson.

Known as “Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting” — or VADIR — the system is designed to let educators input a range of violent incidents that ultimately get reported to the state and determine whether a school is considered “persistently dangerous.”

Under a proposal outlined at the state’s Board of Regents meeting Monday, the number of incident categories could shrink from 20 to just nine. The new categories are meant to provide “a greater degree of clarity and are better aligned with the intent of VADIR, which is not to be punitive but rather to inform policies for reducing school violence,” according to meeting materials.

The eliminated categories include robbery, arson, kidnapping, burglary and reckless endangerment. Offenses such as homicide, sexual offenses, harassment, and bullying remain on the list, along with new ones like “physical injury.” (You can find the complete list of proposed category changes here.) A spokesperson for the State Education Department said the changes were meant to “include the most violent incidents,” along with those, like bomb threat and drug use, required by the federal government.

Educators have pointed out that seemingly benign incidents — such as a student throwing a ball at another student — have reportedly been logged as assault, and say there is a great deal of inconsistency in what incidents are reported. For their part, city officials have also complained that the state data exaggerates the dangerousness of its public schools.

“If you talk to people in schools, they don’t have anything good to say about VADIR reporting,” said Kathleen DeCataldo, executive director of the Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, a member of the task force that recommended changes to the state. “Anything that changes VADIR is a good thing.”

DeCataldo said she had not yet completely reviewed the state’s proposal, but hoped the revised categories would make the reporting system easier to understand and encourage reporting of only the most serious incidents.

It was unclear Monday exactly what effect the proposed changes could have. State officials declined to speculate on whether the new categories could impact the number of violent or disruptive incidents reported by schools, or the number of schools defined as persistently dangerous.

In New York City, the number of schools considered persistently dangerous according to VADIR data fell sharply in 2016 to four schools, down from 27 last year. State officials have said the drop is the result of additional training and support on how to accurately report incidents.

Johanna Miller, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s advocacy director, said she is encouraged by the proposal. “In the past, VADIR conflated serious problems with everyday misbehavior, painting a picture of schools that was inadequate and confusing,” she said in a statement. “We are pleased that NYSED is tackling these issues to make sure schools are safe and supportive for all students.”

The proposed VADIR categories will be subject to a 45-day public comment period, and if approved, will take effect at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.