Students still afraid despite
fewer school weapons, crime. Why? Bullies.
by Brooke Donald, Detroit News, December 10, 2002
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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
"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
had carried weapons 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.
While security measures have helped stop guns and knives from
getting into schools, however, they can't do much about the
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 in 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
Modzeleski said school administrators need to treat bullying
the same way they treat other aggressive behavior.
"Bullying can lead to more assaultive behavior," Modzeleski
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
"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
-- Twenty-nine percent of students said drugs were available
on campus -- 3 percent fewer than in 1995. There was no change
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.
Lavarello said school officials have been doing a better job
in recent years of balancing prevention programs and crime
intervention. But he said the dropping crime statistics may
not be entirely accurate.
A Sept. 25 survey by the National Association of School
Resource Officers found that 89 percent of officers said crime
on campus is underreported to police. Lavarello, the group's
executive director, said principals are often pressured to
minimize crime statistics at their schools. As a result, he
said, they often refer to thefts as missing property and
assaults simply as fights.
"A kid may be a victim of assault and battery, but they treat
it as a horse-playing incident," Lavarello said.