Violence in the Schools

July 20, 1995

* Item: The Supreme Court rules that student-athletes can be tested for substance use in the name of fighting drug-related violence in schools.

* Item: A report on violence in the Baltimore County system states that the number of school disturbances has risen rapidly in recent years and is not likely to decline in the immediate future.

* Item: A Howard County football player is convicted of trying to maim a rival athlete from another high school. Before the trial, the judge warns students from both schools against misbehavior in or near the courthouse during the proceedings.

These reports constitute a sampling of the evidence pointing to a nationwide trend toward increased school violence.

As indicated in a 1994 study by the National League of Cities, disorder in U.S. public schools has practically shoved aside academics as the primary concern of many school officials, teachers, parents and pupils.

According to the NLC survey, 40 percent of the respondents said school violence climbed "significantly" during the previous five years. Seventy percent said police officers routinely patrol their local schools. Nineteen percent said their schools use metal detectors at the entrances. Thirty-nine percent said gangs are a "serious" problem.

Not only is the violence more widespread, it has grown more lethal. The fist, once the weapon of choice, has been superseded by the knife and the pistol. Too, student assaults are now aimed at teachers and school officials as well as at peers.

There is at least one positive consequence of these alarming trends: School districts and communities have acknowledged the problem and begun seeking remedies.

Baltimore County, for example, has revamped its network of "alternative schools" for unruly pupils and announced plans to implement recommendations from the just-completed study of school violence.

Meanwhile, schools in city and suburb alike are expected to shoulder more of the basic responsibilities that should be taken care of at home -- from proper eating habits to personal traits such as honesty and integrity.

Educators can do only so much with kids who come to class unable and unwilling to learn. Any official campaign for peaceful schools will fail unless parents and guardians do their part by teaching their children the elements of socially acceptable behavior.

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