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Deal With School Violence Before a Crisis Occurs

To the Editor:

President Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno recently initiated efforts to track more closely nationwide school violence data ("Clinton Releases Findings of School Violence Survey," March 25, 1998). This is the first of many steps needed to better define and, we may hope, to act upon a problem many in the school security profession have seen grow to a priority level in K-12 schools over the past two decades.

The public must recognize the limitations of current data and surveys on school violence. Crimes in our schools are grossly underreported to law enforcement, leaving skewed data for policymakers to use in guiding important prevention, intervention, and enforcement decisions. The reasons for this underreporting range from unintentional errors by school officials who have not been trained to distinguish crimes from disciplinary incidents, to intentional nonreporting stemming from denial, fear of adverse media attention, and the inaccurate belief that the public will perceive administrators to be poor managers if they admit that such problems exist in their schools.

We must also recognize that many schools fail to take proactive security measures to reduce safety risks during noncrisis times. At best, traditional approaches to school safety have included much-needed prevention strategies, such as a nonviolence curriculum, or intervention strategies, such as conflict resolution alone. Knee-jerk reactions to crises have often culminated in enforcement-only strategies, such as the increased use of security personnel and equipment.

At the local level, all school officials should take at least four steps to reduce threats to school security before a crisis occurs:

1. Establish and enforce policies and procedures focused on security issues such as weapons, drugs, and gangs, and on reporting all crimes to law enforcement.

2. Provide training on security trends and strategies for all personnel, including support staff such as secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, school nurses, and security officers.

3. Have professional security assessments conducted and implement the recommendations from these assessments.

4. Establish, test, revise, and train all staff members in crisis-preparedness guidelines for dealing with potential criminal and noncriminal emergencies.

At the national level, colleges must integrate school safety training into their undergraduate and graduate curricula for teachers, counselors, administrators, and other school professionals. Professional associations, many of which have avoided putting school security and crisis training on their regular agendas, must now include such topics as an integral part of their professional-development programs. These steps will meet the need for both immediate information to professionals currently in the field and for the preparation of new educators entering the field.

Successful safe-school planning consists of a balance among prevention, intervention, and security strategies. But first, we must have consistent crime reporting, so that accurate data can be used to appropriately design and target effective strategies. Most important, we must support administrators who acknowledge security concerns (or the potential for such concerns) and who use proactive measures to create a climate in which the education, prevention, and intervention programs can be most effectively delivered.

Kenneth S. Trump
President and Ceo
National School Safetyand Security Services
Cleveland, Ohio

No-Homework Track Offers 'Fresh Approach'

To the Editor:

Why did Peg Dawson end her interesting Commentary, "How We Can Solve the Homework Problem," March 18, 1998, with the statement "Of course, I write this proposal with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I'm not really encouraging schools to create no-homework tracks"?

To me, Ms. Dawson's suggestion presents a fresh approach to an old problem. I wish it could be introduced in interested schools experimentally. There could be many advantages.

First, having tutored in my retirement years, I know that many kids don't do homework because they simply don't know how. In math, they often don't understand the model example, and have not attempted to solve even one of the homework problems. I have wondered why more teachers don't have a few of the problems done under their watchful eyes. In traditional classes, of course, some kids can always say, "I'm doing it at home," and waste the last few minutes of class time. But in a strictly no-homework school, this would not be an option.

As a former teacher, I know I would welcome a designated time during which I could help kids who do not understand the lesson fully and get them on track at their first sign of misunderstanding. I would walk among the desks as I used to do with my 1st grade kids. Those who asked for my help would get my attention at once--and so would the pencil-chewers (always with encouragement).

At the end of the period, I would have the kids correct their papers and collect them all. What about the ones who did not finish? This is a practice period, and why should slower workers be penalized?

Another advantage of the no-homework track would be that I'd know all of the work was authentic, and I could then plan the next day's work on the basis of that day's achievement.

Although I am writing about a hypothetical math class in junior high school, I believe something similar could be devised for almost any subject, grades 3-12. I also think it possible that kids might progress equally well in no-homework tracks as in traditional ones.

I hope that Ms. Dawson will get her tongue out of her cheek and encourage some schools to experiment with her original idea.

Mary R. Khan
Morgan Hill, Calif.

Story on Uniforms and Crime Misstates California Policy

To the Editor:

This letter is to clarify a statement in your article "Calif. District Points to Uniforms for Plunging Crime Rate," Jan. 21, 1998. You write about a new uniform policy and a resulting drop in school crime in the Long Beach Unified School District. You state: "Comparisons with other districts are difficult to come by because administrators elsewhere do not necessarily gather similar data." This is incorrect.

Although the California Department of Education does not gather data on the number of districts in the state that have implemented a school uniform policy, we do have data on the number of crimes committed on public school campuses. In July 1995, California became one of the first states in the nation to implement a comprehensive school-crime-reporting system. The California Safe Schools Assessment, or CSSA, is an incident-based data-collection system. All public schools in the state are required to participate. The state department of education provides extensive training and technical assistance to school administrators on the types of crimes to be reported, how to complete the reporting form, and how to develop a local reporting system to be sure all schools are reporting accurately and consistently.

Our second annual report, released on Feb. 26 of this year, contains data from all of the 1,057 public school districts and county offices of education in the state. The data show that the incidence of crime statewide dropped in all four major crime categories: property crimes, crimes against persons, drug and alcohol offenses, and other crimes.

The safe-schools assessment provides state and local policymakers with accurate data to assess problem areas and to plan and implement prevention and intervention strategies that result in safe schools. Further information about the CSSA can be found on our World Wide Web site at

J. Richard Whitmore
Chief Deputy Superintendent
Educational Policy, Finance, and Accountability
California Department of Education
Sacramento, Calif.

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