Attacking school violence

November 23, 1994

The National League of Cities this month released a study weighted down with gloomy but not surprising news: Violence is a growing problem in U.S. public schools, practically shoving aside academics as the main concern of many school officials, teachers, parents and students.

According to the NLC survey of 700 big cities and small towns throughout the United States, 40 percent of the respondents said school violence has climbed "significantly" during the past five years. In 70 percent of the surveyed communities, local police officers routinely patrol the schools. Nineteen percent use metal detectors at building entrances to keep students from toting guns and knives to algebra or gym class. Thirty-nine percent said gangs have a "serious influence" on disorder in the classrooms, hallways and playgrounds.

Overall, only 11 percent reported no concerns about school violence.

That's the bad news -- condensed from a 17-page report teeming with charts. It followed, by a little more than a month, a finding by the Governor's Commission on Disruptive Youth that the "fear of violence" is widespread in Maryland schools. And it came one week after President Clinton's executive order that students bringing guns into schools must be expelled for at least a year.

Out of the gloom, however, something positive can be gleaned. School districts and communities, recognizing that learning is impossible amid continuous disruptions, have begun taking remedial actions. In Baltimore County, for example, a revamped system of alternative schools provides intense behavioral counseling and a 10-to-1 student-teacher ratio, along with the academic tutoring that had been the sole component of the old approach.

Intervention and prevention programs such as these are becoming more common nationwide. One happy consequence is that local governments, school administrators and community leaders are developing closer relationships.

Public officials would not be so taxed, of course, if children weren't already being schooled in violent ways at home and in their neighborhoods. The explosion of school mishaps clearly suggests an increase in the number of parents and guardians who have failed to teach their children the basics of socially acceptable behavior. To their credit, educators and other concerned citizens are trying to pick up the slack, though the disturbing stats in the NLC report and the conditions that caused them indicate that the task will be a difficult one.

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