Holes in state data suggest Glendale school shooting never happened

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An on-campus shooting at Independence High School in 2016 left two students dead and drew national attention, but according to the school safety records maintained by the Arizona Department of Education, the incident didn’t happen.

The state’s database, called Az SAFE, is supposed to “provide the information educators need to improve the quality and effectiveness of drug and violence prevention programs.” However, the ADE’s data has significant holes.

[RELATED: Guns on school ground: Who's actually keeping track in Arizona?]

A spokesman for ADE acknowledged in a report last week that the department stopped trusting its own data years ago to provide an accurate statewide picture of firearm incidents.

“We need to have this data,” said state Rep. Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson). “When it comes to school safety, this is a serious concern and we really need to be addressing this.”

The 2016 shooting at Independence High School was not reported to Az SAFE because the state only maintains records on student discipline. Glendale police determined the shooting was a murder-suicide. Since the student who brought the weapon to campus died, there was no one to discipline.

It also means that Az SAFE does not tabulate cases where a non-student – a parent, staff member, or outsider – brings a firearm to campus. When a gun battle erupted outside a crowded gym at Cesar Chavez High School in 2014, Phoenix Union High School District sought advice from ADE on whether to report it, according to spokesman Craig Pletenik. In the end, the district did not: the shooters weren’t students.

There are even holes in state data in cases that do involve student discipline.

In May 2016, North Canyon High School went into lockdown after a 17-year-old student was found with a loaded gun in his backpack. According to a statement from the district at the time, the student was arrested and disciplined.

But state records show the district did not report the case to Az SAFE.

KTVK/KPHO gave Paradise Valley Unified School District two days to explain why it did not report the incident. On Friday, spokeswoman Anna Lieggi-Nadler said the district would respond next week.

Ultimately, there is nothing in state law that requires districts to report student discipline to Az SAFE, according to ADE Public Information Officer Stefan Swiat. He indicated that is one of the main reasons the department does not trust its own data.

For years, the Arizona Department of Education surveyed districts on a host of public safety questions that included information about firearms. From 2003 until 2009, the state’s Safe and Drug Free Schools Report gathered data that indicated how many times firearms were used on a campus, how many times they were brought to campus, among a host of other safety and drug information.

The surveys made it clear to include incidents “regardless of whether students or non-students were involved.”

The state replaced the system with Az SAFE in 2010.

"In order to make well-informed decisions as lawmakers, we need to be working to have more information so we can make appropriate choices," said Hernandez.

The state representative from Tucson is also a school board member at Sunnyside Unified School District.

"We are not doing our job in preventing violent incidents and incidences of drugs on campus for our students if we don't have all of the data in our hands and at our disposal to make decisions," he said. "If we don't have this information, than we at the local level, at the school boards, don't have a full picture of what's happening at the state."

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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