Feds Plot Anti-Violence Strategies; Student Coping Skills Emphasized
President Clinton last week was making plans to console the victims of a recent school shooting incident while his administration and community leaders outlined strategies to prevent other such tragedies.
The White House announced that Mr. Clinton would travel to Springfield, Ore., on June 13 to meet with survivors of the May 21 shooting spree that killed two students and wounded 22 others. A 15-year-old student has been charged in the shootings. ("Two Students Die, 22 Injured in Ore. Rampage," May 27, 1998.)
On June 9, the day before the president revealed his travel plans, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley announced plans to overhaul the $556 million Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to fund only programs with proven histories of success.
"We need to recognize that teaching young people coping and social skills that allow them to turn away from violence and drugs can take many forms," Mr. Riley said in a speech at a conference here last week on the safe schools program. "Many schools are using character education, peer mediation, conflict resolution, and the establishment of student-run religious clubs as ways to help and encourage young people through turbulent times."
Mr. Riley said the Department of Education also has contracted with the National Association of School Psychologists to write guidelines outlining what signs troubled students may manifest before violent outbursts.
Before recent school-related shootings in Oregon, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania, reports indicate that the suspects hinted they might act violently. In the aftermath of those events, school officials throughout the country have been especially vigilant in suspending or expelling students who have issued similar threats.
Independent of the federal activity, the mayors and school leaders of communities where fatal shootings have occurred this school year--Springfield; West Paducah, Ky.; Pearl, Miss.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and Edinboro, Pa.--met in Memphis, Tenn., to discuss ways to prevent such incidents in the future. The meeting was closed to reporters.
At the conference in Washington, Mr. Riley suggested that schools be guided by a single principle: "That every child in America in a school has a positive and caring relationship with at least one adult."
One expert on teenage violence said that would not be enough. Educators need to weave conflict resolution into their curricula, much in the same way they have expanded sex education in recent decades, argued David Batstone, an associate professor of social ethics at University of San Francisco. He moderates an on-line forum on youth violence.
"Children need to learn ways to deal with escalated situations of conflict that inevitably rise in the daily course of school life," Mr. Batstone said in an interview. "Peer-mediation and conflict-resolution curriculums are particularly helpful in turning the tide of youth violence."
Mr. Clinton planned to fly to Springfield last Saturday after delivering the commencement address at Portland State University.
Vol. 17, Issue 40, Page 12