NPR: Department of Education Wildly Overstates Number of School-Related Shootings in New Survey

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School staff, teachers and students return to school greeted by police and well wishers in Parkland, Florida / Getty Images

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The Department of Education reported there were 235 school-related shootings in the United States during the 2015-16 school year, but NPR could confirm less than 5 percent of the incidents occurred in a new report.

Of the 235 school-related shooting incidents, NPR only confirmed 11 of them. It reported 161 schools or school districts told NPR no shootings had occurred, four were miscategorized, and 59 could not be either confirmed or unconfirmed by NPR.

The huge discrepancy calls into question the reliability of data disseminated by the government on the pressing issue of school safety.

The Department of Education told NPR it relied on school districts to give accurate information in its annual Civil Rights Data Collection. It asked for the 2015-16 school year, "Has there been at least one incident at your school that involved a shooting (regardless of whether anyone was hurt)?" It published the eye-popping number—"nearly 240 schools (0.2 percent of all schools)"—this spring.

It was nowhere close to the left-wing advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety's data on the question, which listed 29 shootings at K-12 schools during the same period. Only seven schools appeared on both the government's and Everytown's lists:

A separate investigation by the ACLU of Southern California also was able to confirm fewer than a dozen of the incidents in the government's report, while 59 percent were confirmed errors.

One of the biggest reasons for the discrepancy in the Civil Rights Data Collection number was the Cleveland Metropolitan School District listing 37 incidents in its district alone for that year. Roseann Canfora, the district's chief communications officer, told NPR that 37 schools had in fact reported incidents involving "possession of a knife or a firearm," the previous question on the form. The district slotted the number in the wrong line in the survey.

There are multiple other examples of situations that didn't involve the discharging of a firearm but were listed as shootings:

Ray Poole, the chief of legal services for the Nassau County School District in Florida, told us that at one school where a shooting was reported, Callahan Middle School, on Nov. 21, 2015, a Saturday, a student took a picture of himself at home holding a gun and posted it to social media. "We got wind of it and nipped it in the bud." No shooting.

The CRDC shows seven shootings in DeKalb County, Ga. Police reports provided to us by that district give a sense of more of the many, many ways the data collection may have gone wrong.

At Redan Middle School, there is a report of a toy cap gun fired on a school bus — not a shooting.

The CRDC shows a shooting at Stone Mountain Middle School, but a police report shows an incident at Stone Mountain High School instead.

And district officials provided a police report showing that there was a shooting after a McNair High School football game — in August 2016, after the time period covered in the survey.

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