Even though overall school violence is down, a surge of bloody shootings in schools has caused communities across the nation to question how safe our schools are.
Last year, the Department of Education and Department of Justice reported that school violence has declined in the past decade. But during that same time, school shootings, from the Columbine massacre to a six-year-old shooting a classmate, gave parents reason to fear when they send their children off to school. Americans fears about school violence are increasing - seven out of ten believe a shooting is likely in their school.
A recent study by the Justice Policy Institute, a youth advocacy think tank, and the Children's Law Center said that swift, harsh punishments for any sign of violence is becoming the norm in many schools.
"We've got kids getting kicked out of school for saying 'bang-bang' to each other," said Vincent Schiraldi of the institute.
There is no such thing as "boys will be boys," or "they're just children," anymore. Schools are taking all threats and all violence, from a pinch or a whispered threat, seriously.
In Topeka, Kan., teachers and administrators spent a day at a conference on the warning signs of violent students. In Columbia County, Ga., public safety officers in schools are armed. After the Columbine shootings, the schools added more video cameras and began locking school doors during the day.
The SWAT team for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was practicing maneuvers for protecting people from heavily armed mass murders in February - in a vacant school. Even though the team said they just needed any empty building, they have practiced school-related scenarios, too.
Another study by the institute showed that while there was a 40 percent drop in school-associated violent deaths from the 1997-98 school year to the 1998-99 school year, there was a 49 percent increase in fear that a school shooting might happen in a community. But according to the study, children have a one-in-two million chance of dying at school.
Schiraldi said that these studies should give parents and children some measure of hope.
"The data reminds us that our young people are neither schoolhouse assassins nor the kids on the other side of the yellow tape, weeping over the deaths of their classmates," he said. "Our kids are the ones playing soccer, going to dances and doing the other normal things kids do. They don't need us to turn their schools into prisons, they need support to live healthy, happy lives."
In this sensitive environment, there are things parents can do to help their children.
The Talking With Kids Campaign at www.talkingwithkids.org, a collaboration between Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation, offers some suggestions for parents about how to talk with their children and deal with violence.
Talk to your children openly and honestly, encouraging them to ask questions. And do it frequently -- the more, the better. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and their fears. Remember to reassure them and support them.
Watch what your children are watching. There can be a lot of violence in the media, on television, in movies and in video games. Let them know why violent movies or games bother you.
Set a good example. Remember that your children will learn from you. Make sure your children understand your values and how they may differ from others. Also be sure that you let them know how you expect them to behave toward others.
Talk with your children about weapons. Make it very clear that while the Road Runner recovers, real weapons have very serious effects. Make sure your child does not have access to guns or other weapons.
Teach your children how to avoid violence -- teach them to be calm when responding to insults, threats or hits.
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