Delaware News Journal | Jessica Bies
One week after it announced schools would no longer be required to report offensive touching or threats to kill and seriously injured students or employees to the state, the Delaware Department of Education has reversed course.
The department said last week that it was updating its regulations on how schools report crime and misconduct to be more consistent with state law.
In 2012, lawmakers had eliminated both terroristic threatening and offensive touching from Delaware's mandatory reporting requirements, meaning schools were no longer required to report such offenses to the police.
Consequently, the Education Department announced schools would not need to report them to the state, either.
That appears to have been a mistake.
On Wednesday, the Education Department sent an "IMPORTANT" update on Regulation 601, announcing that it would not be updated after all.
Emily Cunningham, the department's chief of staff and a policy analyst, said in the email that the Education Department has since realized that the regulation was already amended, in 2013, to be in compliance with the mandatory reporting requirements.
Terroristic threats and offensive touching, previously listed as "school crimes" had been reclassified as "incidents of misconduct."
"The legislation took effect on August 16, 2012," Cunningham said. "Since that time, all of these incidents have been reported to DOE as incidents of misconduct and not crimes. However, even though the law repealed only terroristic threatening and offensive touching as mandatory criminal reports, law enforcement may be contacted."
"We apologize for any confusion."
Cunningham said the reversal wasn't because of public pushback or parent feedback. It was merely an oversight, she said in another email.
"The department did not change its mind; the change had simply already been made in 2013, and therefore, the change wasn’t necessary," Cunningham said.
Parents, living in a world where school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, have sparked debates over school safety and threat assessments, had questioned why the regulation was being revised.
"Are you kidding me?!?" one parent said on Delaware Online's Facebook page. "This just hides and buries more violent students in their early warning phases."
Another parent said: "Why is this even an issue? Reporting is part of the intelligence gathering processes. This policy is on the losing side of fighting the war on terror!"
Many parents understood why the law was originally changed in 2013. Legislators wanted to give school administrators more discretion over what to report to the police, especially when threats were made by students with disabilities or those too young to understand the implications or realistically follow through on what they said.
But a terroristic threat could also be classified as a felony, depending on the content and whether it forces an evacuation or lockdown. Since the shooting in Florida, several students have been arrested and charged after allegedly making threats to school safety.
In March, for instance, a seventh-grader at Millsboro Middle School was arrested for threatening his principal and a staff member, state police said. Additional information from the school resource officer revealed that the boy had also made threats toward the school.
In February, a bystander at James H. Groves Adult High School in Dover overheard a 19-year-old student say he would "shoot up the school" and reported the statement to school officials. Police were called, and the teen was arrested and charged with terroristic threatening.
In Delaware last year, schools reported 315 reports of terroristic threatening of a student and 292 reports of terroristic threatening of an employee, according to data from the state Education Department.
Offensive touching, which is the most-often reported offense in Delaware schools overall, could include intentionally touching someone, knowing that the person is likely to be offended or alarmed, or intentionally striking another person with saliva, urine, feces or any other bodily fluid.
There were 4,162 incidents of offensive touching of a student and 1,307 incidents of offensive touching of an employee, according to last year's data.
Schools are also required to report violent felonies as well as instances of criminal mischief and vandalism, felony theft, possession/use of alcohol, drugs and inhalants, bullying, sexual harassment, fighting and teen dating violence, state regulations say.