ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – In a Freedom of Information request submitted to Chemung County in June, we asked for a yearly breakdown from 2017 to 2023 of arrests made inside three schools: Elmira High School, Ernie Davis Academy, and Broadway Academy. We also asked if the arrests were felonies or misdemeanors, as well as a breakdown of weapons seized on school grounds. We did not ask for any student identities.
Chemung County declined our request, saying in part: “a proper search has been conducted for the records requested and they cannot be found.” After filing an appeal for more information on why the records could not be found, Chemung County Attorney Hyder Hussein told 18 News: “The information you requested is not maintained in a way that would isolate events of weapons seized on school grounds, etc. More importantly if an arrest were associated with the school grounds, and such a person was a minor, those records would be specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statutes.”
School privacy rules require student names not be requested. However, there is no law against reporting statistics or crimes inside schools.
In July, 18 News also filed Freedom of Information requests with the Elmira City School District, asking for a yearly breakdown of all violent incidents involving students from 2017 to 2023 for the same three schools. We also asked for a breakdown of weapons seized on school grounds and the weapon descriptions.
In its initial response days later, the school district replied saying “Since your request involves a multi-year search requiring substantial efforts and since the records that may exist are not readily accessible, additional time to comply will be necessary. Pursuant to the provisions of the Public Officers Law, we should be able to provide you with a further response on or before September 22, 2023.
On September 22, 2023, more than two months later, the Elmira City School district wrote in part: “Please be advised that the district does not maintain records according to the description of weapons seized, not is the district required to maintain such records.”
As for violent incidents involving students, the school district wrote “after carefully examining the issue, we cannot respond. The terms you have employed in this request are so imprecise that we cannot respond.”
In November of 2022, 18 News reported on more than 25 videos sent to us by students and viewers of fights that allegedly happened on the grounds of Elmira City Schools, during the 2021-2022 school year. In a year-long investigation, 18 News found the school district only reported 12 incidents of bullying and assault to the state, in a report that schools are required by law to submit. Those 12 incidents were across the entire school district, including eight elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. In a statement at the time, Elmira City Schools Superintendent Hillary Austin told 18 News the district “investigated over 300 discipline conduct referrals in areas of student altercations as well as bullying that did not meet the criteria for a report, but did require discipline consequences.
The New York State Department of Education says its currently gathering data for the yearly bullying report for the 2022-2023 school year. The report is called “School Safety and the Educational Climate.” 18 News is also filing new, more specific, Freedom of Information requests with the Elmira School District to seek more clarity on violent incidents involving students, such as assaults.