Schools Combat Violence
What's being done to combat violence in America's schools? What can school administrators and teachers do? Should disruptive students be expelled? These are some of the problems educators, lawmakers, and other experts are tackling today.
That these acts of violence take place at all shocks America. That they happen in schools is even more disturbing.
While statistics show overall crime in schools decreasing, violent crime in schools is on the rise. Since 1992, there have been 201 homicides on school campuses nationwide, according to Ronald Stephens, director of the National School Safety Center (NSSC), which collects statistics on school violence.
Despite school violence, our schools, experts point out, are decidedly safer than our streets. As Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, told the San Francisco Examiner: The presence of metal detectors at certain schools, searches of students and lockers, and other security moves have helped combat crime in our nation's schools.
Given the recent spate of violent acts in schools, what can administrators, teachers, and staff members do to keep their schools as safe as possible?
"First," said Ronald Stephens of NSSC, "every school should develop a safe school plan. Eighteen states require it, and developing such a plan indicates that educators are placing school safety on the education agenda. Safety is a minimum requirement for children to be properly educated."
"Next, minimize the number of entrance and exit points in a school," Stephens continued, "to gain control of access to the school. Have a policy that all visitors to the campus must be screened."
"And," Stephens said, "mandate a crime tracking and recordkeeping system within the school. Just keeping track of the number of violent incidents, including fighting between students, is an incredibly effective way to help lower violence in a school. "
One simple action parents can take to help keep a school safe, Stephens suggested, is to "invest time in talking to their children about school, in asking them about their day every day." Students who have been bullied or assaulted in school sometimes will tell an adult only if their parents ask them what's happening in school, Stephens said.
Whether expelling disruptive students should play a part in keeping schools safe is a subject of considerable debate. When Massachusetts increased its expulsion rate for students, state Education Commissioner Robert Antonucci said, as quoted in the Daily Report Card, "Suspending and expelling some disruptive students will strengthen the climate of learning. Safe schools are a top priority."
Some child advocates, however, disagreed. "Society is not doing itself a favor by taking kids we see as the most troubled and removing them from the one institution we have established to deal with children," said Ray Wallace, a lawyer for several expelled children in Massachusetts school districts.
Where do teachers stand on the topic of school violence? There is evidence that teachers find school violence threatening. According to the American Federation of Teachers, nearly one-third of teachers have pondered leaving the profession because of violence and intimidation.
Students attending a school where violence occurs, experts say, clearly will need crisis and grief counseling and other forms of intervention to cope with tragedy. So will many students who find out about the act of violence from the media, family, or friends.
"How much this news item is a topic in your school puts a proportionally difficult instructional obligation on you," Rick Larios, an Edison Project administrator, told Project teachers. "What do you tell students who are affected by this story, who are made more vulnerable, more fearful, insecure, worried, or depressed...?
"The first thing has to be to assure them of their safety, that such eruptions of senseless violence are in fact more rare than our attention and shock lead us to believe when confronted with days of disturbing headlines -- some of them irresponsibly sensational, as the New York Daily News's headline, ... "Born to Kill," was. While no one is perfectly safe from bad things happening, none of us are more vulnerable to them because of what happened...."
Statistics on school safety, released by the Education Department's National Center for Educational Statistics, revealed that:
The survey counted only crimes at school or school-sponsored events that were reported to the police. The percentage of crimes was higher at large schools and urban schools, the survey showed. Based on responses from more than 1,200 elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the survey numbers are estimates for all 79,000 public schools in the United States, extrapolated from the survey sample.
Article by Sharon Cromwell
Copyright © Education World