D.C. Public Schools Students Survey Reveals High Rates Of Sex, Fear And Suicide Attempts

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson had some revealing statistics to share with city council members Tuesday -- almost 10 percent of 8th graders have attempted suicide.

The figure comes from the Center for Disease Control's 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The 59-question survey given to 1,186 D.C. middle school students also found that 18.4 percent of 6th graders had missed school at some point in the last year because they felt unsafe, while 13.9 percent of all middle schoolers said they had been afraid of being beaten up at school.

Nearly 30 percent of 8th graders have had sexual intercourse, and 15 percent of middle schoolers had been a member of a gang in the last year, according to Henderson's presentation made available by WAMU.

More than half of D.C. high school dropouts leave by 9th grade, and more than 80 percent of dropouts do so by 10th grade, The Washington Times reports.

A separate 99-question survey was given to 1,396 high schoolers in the area. Results from the high school questionnaire revealed that 12.5 percent of students in the 12th grade had attempted suicide in the last year, WTOP reports.

Still, DCPS officials are taking the figures with a grain of salt. The Washington Post reports that administrators are looking at the self-reported responses as an indication that students need more support, particularly in a Web-driven culture that exposes youth to many of the issues addressed Tuesday.

“It’s very alarming,” Henderson said. “I think it is a generalized cry for help.”

The findings Henderson presented Tuesday compare with those from other cities and past national statistics. In 2009, 9.9 percent of New York's high school students had attempted suicide.

Nationally, 7.3 percent of 9th graders had attempted suicide one or more times during the year before the survey in 2009 -- the most recent for which national data is available. For the same population, 5.8 percent missed school because of safety concerns, and 31.6 percent had had sexual intercourse. Prevalence of having ever had sexual intercourse ranged from 28.7 percent to 63.5 percent across local surveys in 2009.

Still, the CDC says the 2009 figures might be unreliable since the survey pool was not large enough, according to The Washington Post.

DCPS will look to work with city officials to determine how best to allocate resources to optimize opportunities and assistance for students, The Washington Times reports.

Tuesday's announcement comes while DCPS is struggling to fix problems with its troubled middle schools, as enrollment continues to decline. The system is also the target of an Education investigation into alleged cheating among teachers that inflated exam scores -- before the district released in July standardized test results that showed overall improvements among its students.