Washington, DC – A recent National Public Radio (NPR) study found that the U.S. Department of Education had grossly overstated the number of school shootings that occurred during the 2015-2016 school year, and that more than 66 percent of the reported shootings never happened at all.
The U.S. Department of Education study, which was published this past spring, announced that “nearly 240 schools [0.2 percent of all schools]… reported at least one incident involving a school-related shooting,” during the 2015-2016 academic year, NPR reported.
Those figures were based on self-reported statistics provided by every school district in the country.
In partnership with Child Trends, a nonprofit research group, NPR contacted each of the 235 schools that reported having a shooting, and discovered that only 11 of the reported incidents could be confirmed has having occurred.
Fifty-nine schools did not respond to NPR’s request for information.
In the remaining 161 cases, the districts or schools told NPR that either the incident never took place, or that they were unable to confirm it had taken place.
Four of the 161 schools told NPR that “something” happened, but that it did not meet the government’s definition of a shooting.
The U.S. Department of Education defined a shooting as “any discharge of a weapon at school-sponsored events or on school buses.”
Similarly, the Everytown for Gun Safety database “found just 29 shootings at K-12 schools” during the period reported by the U.S. Department of Education.
And the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California “was able to confirm fewer than a dozen of the incidents in the government’s report,” NPR reported.
"When we're talking about such an important and rare event, [this] amount of data error could be very meaningful," Child Trends researcher and program director Deborah Temkin told NPR.
The survey is administered by the department’s Office for Civil Rights every two years. By law, every public school is required to respond.
“I think someone pushed the wrong button,” said Jeff Davis, the assistant superintendent at the Ventura Unified School District in California, where a whopping 26 school shootings were reported to have occurred.
Davis said that the former superintendent “has been here for almost 30 years and he doesn’t remember any shooting. We are in this weird vortex of what’s on this screen and what reality is.”
Nearby, NPR said the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District reported four shootings at their 16 schools.
However, district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said nobody can remember any incident involving a firearm "going back 20-plus years."
Pinsker said she suspected there had been a coding error because the closest thing the district could find was an incident involving a pair of scissors, NPR reported.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District mistakenly reported their 37 incidents of “possession of knife or a firearm” on the wrong line, thereby falsely reporting that they experienced 37 shooting incidents instead.
Another district reported an incident of a child firing a toy cap gun on a school bus, while another included an instance where a student took a photo while holding a gun and posted it to social media – neither of which met the government’s definition of a shooting.
Many schools complained of the confusing wording and definitions listed on the survey, to include asking about two issues – such as a firearm or an explosive device – in the same question.
"Best practices in data collection are not to include double-barreled items," Temkin explained.
Although at least five school districts have requested that the information they submitted for the study be amended, the report will not be republished to reflect accurate information, U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Liz Hill told NPR.
"As always, data reported by recipients is self-reported and self-certified,” Hill said, noting that the schools were the ones at fault for any instances of “misreporting.”