Students afraid despite drop in weapons, crime

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Metal detectors and surveillance cameras have sharply reduced weapons and crime at the nation's schools, but a government report says students are more afraid on school grounds than off because of a problem that hasn't changed: the school bully.

''Away from school, kids can stay away from their enemy. On campus they can't really escape,'' said Curt Lavarello, who works with school police officers.

Over the years, the percentage of assaults, theft and other crimes at schools has steadily gone down. Six percent of students ages 12 to 18 said they were victims of crimes last year, compared with 10 percent in 1995. The largest drop came for students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

In a 1993 survey, 12 percent of high school students said they carried a weapon at school in the past 30 days. That dropped to 6 percent in 2001, according to a joint report by the Education and Justice departments.

But while security measures have helped stop guns and knives from getting into schools, they can't do much about the bully.

Nine percent of the students said they had been threatened or injured with a weapon last year, up slightly from two years ago. There also was a 3 percent increase in students who reported being bullied.

''Bullying was accepted as part of the tradition of the school. That has to change,'' said William Modzeleski, who heads the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. ''We're starting to recognize that this is a serious issue and beginning to address it.''

Modzeleski said school administrators need to treat bullying the same way they treat other aggressive behavior.

''Bullying can lead to more assaultive behavior,'' Modzeleski said.

A survey last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 10,000 children stayed home from school at least once a month because they feared bullies, and half the children surveyed said they were bullied once a week.

Sandy Clifton-Bacon, an assistant superintendent at Redondo Beach Unified School District near Los Angeles, said teachers and other adults on campus are becoming better trained to deal with bullies.

''We have to. It's a serious problem. And lately, schools are becoming more liable for those things,'' she said.

Last month, for example, parents of a 13-year-old-boy filed a federal lawsuit against a rural school district in central Pennsylvania for allegedly ignoring the bullying of their son.

Also, a growing number of schools across the country have adopted bullying intervention programs.

The government report, compiled from police reports and interviews with students and principals, also found:

The percentage of students who reported street gangs in their school fell from 29 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2001.

Twenty-nine percent of students said drugs were available on campus -- 3 percent fewer than in 1995. There was no change found in the percentage of students who had used marijuana.

Twelve percent of students said someone at school had called them a derogatory word having to do with race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation. About 36 percent saw hate-related graffiti at school.

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