Making Schools Safe for Kids.

Author:Corradini, Deedee

"Many of the accused in recent cases of school violence are children with severe mental problems, youngsters who felt left out or lack social bonds. Counselors [are needed to] monitor those under their care and intervene before violence erupts."

Americans have seen the news footage and heard the testimonies of the children of Jonesboro, Ark.; Paducah, Ky.; Springfield, Ore.; and Pearl, Miss. These stories now serve as reminders that kids can become killers and that terrible tragedy can happen anywhere, at any time, for seemingly no reason. A crisis has reached America's schools, and it is time to take a serious look at the problem and devise ways to make sure such tragedies never occur again. Right now, it appears there is much to do. Surveys have found that:

* 10% of all public schools experienced one or more serious violent crimes (i.e., murder, rape or other sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery) that were reported to police or other law enforcement officials during the 1996-97 school year.

* 45% of elementary schools, 74% of middle schools, and 77% of high schools reported one or more violent incidents.

* The percentage of students reporting street gang presence at school nearly doubled between 1989 and 1995, increasing from 15 to 28%.

* The rate of firearm deaths among children under 13 is nearly 12 times higher in the U.S. than in 25 other industrialized countries combined.

What possibly can explain these alarming trends? Though it is true that the proportion of adolescents perpetrating violent offenses is just slightly up in recent years, it is necessary to stay on top of the problem to make sure there isn't a resurgence. Furthermore, violent acts that result in serious injury or death have risen. Since 1988, the adolescent homicide rate has more than doubled. To explain this trend, experts point to the increase in handgun use. Studies have found that an estimated 1,000,000 children between sixth and 12th grade have carried guns to school at some point during the last school year. Other explanations look at what elements are influencing youngsters. Violence or neglect at home, violence on TV and in movies, drug and alcohol use, and underdeveloped conflict management skills all are contributors.

In September, 1998, about 60 mayors from the United States Conference of Mayors Leadership met in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Attorney General Janet Reno; police chiefs; education experts; health, parks...

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