Family breakdown, media blamed for increased school violence

January 06, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Violence in schools is more acute than it was five years ago -- a result, primarily, of the breakdown of the family and the portrayal of violence by the media, according to school board members from 700 districts nationwide.

Alcohol and drug abuse, easy access to guns, and poverty were cited as other major causes in the survey released yesterday.

"Now that we have solid information on the causes, we must take up the difficult task of working with federal and state government, parent groups, the business community and the media in finding solutions," said William Soult, president of the National School Boards Association, which conducted the survey.

Thirty-nine percent of responding urban districts reported a shooting or knifing in school last year, and 23 percent reported drive-by shootings. While the reports of violence were highest in urban districts, suburban and rural districts also reported increases in the number and seriousness of violent incidents, including rapes and shootings.

"This report clearly shows that the concern about violence in our nation's schools now extends to all communities -- urban, suburban and rural," said Education Secretary Richard Riley. "More than 80 percent of those responding reported increases in school violence during the past five years, 35 percent saying the increase was 'significant.' "

Seventy-seven percent of the responding districts said "changing family situations" -- including everything from children living in poverty to a lack of supervision in upper-income families -- is the primary cause of violence. Sixty percent blamed the violence on the media.

To deter violence, school districts have used an array of tactics: suspending students, increasing police presence on campuses, teaching students alternative ways of handling conflicts and setting up separate schools for disruptive students.

Thirty-nine percent of urban and 10 percent of suburban school districts said they used metal detectors, and 19 percent of urban and 11 percent of suburban districts said they had installed television cameras.

The Broward County, Fla., school board hired a former New York City gang member to work with teachers, parents and students to discourage children from joining gangs.

"The good news in this report is that school and community leaders across America are not idly wringing their hands but are focusing diligently on the violence issue and exploring creative solutions to the violence problems," Mr. Riley said.

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