New York City Plans a Crackdown on Violence in Schools

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Concerned about a sharp increase in reports of violence in and around schools in recent weeks, New York City officials last week proposed a series of security measures--including "panic buttons'' in classrooms--to protect both employees and students.

In addition to the silent buzzer systems to enable teachers to summon help, Mayor Edward I. Koch and Schools Chancellor Richard R. Green said, new security measures would include metal detectors and electronically locked doors to schools.

The Mayor also proposed that students who assault school employees be expelled and that the punishment for assaulting a teacher be upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony.

And the chancellor announced that he would establish and head a commission on school safety to plan implementation of the proposals next fall. The announcements followed an impromptu "educational summit'' held last Tuesday by police, school, and city officials to discuss escalating violence involving students and teachers in city schools.

Climate of Attack

On the same day, a Bronx elementary-school teacher was shot in the leg by one of two men who were fighting near the school. Police said the suspected gunman was not a student.

The incident was the latest in a series in which teachers had been victims of attacks on or near school property.

On May 26, an intermediate-school teacher who was coaching an intramural softball game was beaten severely with a baseball bat by an unknown assailant thought by police not to be a student.

Earlier that week, another teacher was stabbed and robbed in the bathroom of a Bronx high school by a man in a ski mask. The early-morning assault was also said by police to have been by an outsider.

Included in the security measures was an agreement with Benjamin Ward, the city's police commissioner, to provide before- and after-school police protection for 200 campuses in high-crime neighborhoods.

"This is the first time the head of this school system has taken such a stand and I applaud him,'' said Sandra Feldman, president of the United Federation of Teachers. "Schools where people are living in fear cannot be a good learning environment.''

Experiment With Detectors

Ms. Feldman said she also supported the Mayor's proposal to install standing metal detectors in the entranceways of city schools.

There was no discussion of the cost of the various security measures at the summit meeting, city officials said. But they estimated that the metal detectors alone could cost several million dollars.

Last month, five public schools volunteered to take part in a trial program to test the use of metal detectors. The board of education approved the plan, with the stipulation that the schools win community support for the idea.

The schools were also charged with the task of developing an overall security plan using the detectors in conjunction with other measures.

Meanwhile, Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, has offered his organization's help to parents who wish to challenge the devices as a violation of students' civil rights.

"We are very bothered by the notion of metal detectors in schools,'' he said last week. "Students shouldn't have to run the gauntlet of school checkpoints to get an education.''

But Mayor Koch said last week that he hoped all schools would use metal detectors eventually.

Numbers Down, Violence Up

School officials said the number of reports of assaults on teachers had decreased over the past few years, but the type of violence had escalated.

Approximately 337 assaults were reported against teachers in schools in the 1985-86 school year; 297 were reported in 1986-87; and 198 so far this year.

Edward Muir, chairman of the U.F.T.'s school-safety committee, said there had been many more reports of students carrying such weapons as .357 magnums, sawed-off shotguns, and even Uzi machine guns to school.

But Ms. Feldman noted that most of the violence reported was a result of outsiders coming into schools in drug-ridden neighborhoods.--L.J.

Vol. 07, Issue 37

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