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School Violence Up Over Past 5 Years, 82% in Survey Say

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Family disintegration and portrayals of violence in the media are the two leading causes of an "epidemic of violence'' in public schools, school district leaders say in a report released last week.

Eighty-two percent of the 720 districts surveyed for the study reported that violence in their schools had increased in the past five years.

The report by the National School Boards Association was issued amid heightened attention to violence in the United States by government leaders and the news media. It follows two other studies on youth and school violence that were released last month.

Violence is no longer confined to urban schools but is increasingly found in rural and suburban districts, the N.S.B.A. report says.

Seventy-eight percent of the districts surveyed said student-on-student assaults were the most frequent form of violence, and 28 percent of the districts reported student attacks on teachers.

The school board members surveyed said such violent behavior begins at home. Seventy-seven percent of the districts cited family poverty and a lack of supervision of children in upper-income families as the primary causes of violence in schools. Sixty percent of the respondents blamed violence in the media and in song lyrics.

"What's happening inside families that is negative is playing out in the classroom,'' said Michael Resnick, an associate executive director of the N.S.B.A. Schools must work with federal and state governments, parents' groups, and the media to find solutions, he said.

The study outlines several methods that districts are using to combat violence in and around schools. Seventy-eight percent of the districts surveyed use student suspensions, 70 percent work with social agencies, and 60 percent train their staffs in conflict resolution. Twenty-four percent of the districts send trained dogs into the schools to find drugs, 15 percent use metal detectors to search for weapons, and 11 percent use closed-circuit-television cameras on school buses.

Gun Access Easy

Access to weapons can also play a large part in fueling school violence, a U.S. Justice Department study released last month says.

Thirty-five percent of male high school students in crime-ridden urban neighborhoods said they carry a gun, and 22 percent of those students reported owning a gun, the survey found.

The study was based on interviews with 758 male students in 10 inner-city high schools and 835 male juveniles who were incarcerated for serious offenses in six correctional facilities in four states.

The majority of the students and inmates reported that "self-protection in a hostile and violent world'' was the chief reason they carried a weapon.

Forty-five percent of the students reported that they had been threatened with a gun or had been shot "on the way to or from school'' within the past few years.

A few of the students said they had stolen their weapons, but most said they bought them through legitimate sources, or borrowed a gun from a family member or friend.

Teachers Surveyed

While the problem of school violence is significant across the country, it tends to disproportionately affect low-achieving schools, and those with large minority populations, according to a survey of teachers also released last month.

Over all, 77 percent of the public school teachers responding said they feel "very safe'' when they are in or around their schools. But among those teachers who rate their schools' quality of education as "fair or poor,'' only 44 percent feel safe. Sixty-one percent of teachers in schools with a majority of minority students feel safe, according to the survey, which was conducted by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

The report is based on interviews with 1,000 12th-grade teachers, 1,180 3rd- to 12th-grade students, and 100 police-department officials in the 50 states.

It found that students generally feel less safe than teachers and that students with lower grades feel more vulnerable at school than their higher-achieving peers.

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