President Seeks To Boost Federal Role in School Safety

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The federal government must play a greater role in making schools safer, President Clinton said last week as he announced plans to create a federal crisis-intervention team to respond to violent incidents at schools. The president also announced the creation of a special fund to increase the ranks of school police nationwide.

"The vast majority of our schools are safe, and students are learning in peace and security," Mr. Clinton said to an audience of more than 200 educators, law- enforcement personnel, counselors, and parents attending a White House conference on school safety. "But in many schools, there's too much disrespect for authority. ... Our schools must be sanctuaries."

About 10 percent of the nation's public schools reported at least one serious violent crime in the 1996-97 school year, and most of those incidents were concentrated in large, urban districts, according to the "Annual Report on School Safety," which was released on the eve of the Oct. 15 conference.

The report, prepared by the U.S. departments of Education and Justice, is the first from what will be a yearly study intended to create a database to track school crime nationally. The report says that one-third of schools with 1,000 or more students reported at least one serious incident a year, compared with 0.1 percent of smaller schools. Urban schools are more than twice as likely as rural schools to report serious violent crimes, the report says.

Students are far safer at school than in the community at large, the report stresses, but it also notes that the presence of gangs at schools has escalated sharply. Between 1989 and 1995, the percentage of 12- to 19-year-old students who reported gang activity at their schools jumped from 15 percent to 28 percent. Increases were evident in all geographical regions, in large cities, suburbs, and nonmetropolitan areas.

Quick Response

Mr. Clinton vowed to establish a federal response team that would be available to aid schools in the aftermath of violent incidents. Just as the Federal Emergency Management Agency helps communities cope with such natural disasters as hurricanes and earthquakes, the president proposed that a team of crisis-intervention experts be made ready to offer mental-health services to schools coping with violent incidents.

Many districts already have crisis-intervention plans for dealing with traumatic events in and around their schools.

Under Mr. Clinton's plan, which requires congressional approval, $12 million would be used to help communities--such as Jonesboro, Ark.; Springfield, Ore.; West Paducah, Ky.; and Pearl, Miss., where school shootings occurred last year--to pay for immediate crisis counseling and long-term mental-health needs. The money could also be used to train state law-enforcement agencies to provide crisis-counseling services to districts, administration officials said.

"What we currently do is send support for the very short term. With this plan, we will have a continuous team working on shooting response and have dollars for counseling," Jos‚ Cerda, President Clinton's special assistant for crime policy, said last week.

Cops in Schools

In addition to the call for speedy reaction to violent school crime, Mr. Clinton proposed that the federal government help bolster the nation's school police forces.

Drawing on the model of his community-policing effort aimed at putting 100,000 additional police on the streets, Mr. Clinton plans to set aside $65 million in the current Justice Department budget to hire up to 2,000 police officers to work in schools. About $5 million in the budget would be set aside to train municipal officers to work in school environments.

The money would be targeted to the 10 percent of school systems with the most serious crime problems. Administration officials said they hoped that districts could begin applying for the money by January.

Most districts that have security teams in place pay for their own police officers. Dick Van Der Laan, the spokesman for the 90,000-student Long Beach, Calif., district, said that while his district spent 3 percent of this year's budget on school security, officials there would welcome the federal financial aid if the district is eligible.

"Many districts have beefed up security, and those costs have come out of education funds," he said. "In an ideal world, you would spend the money on instruction instead."

Vol. 18, Issue 8, Pages 6-7

Published in Print: October 21, 1998, as President Seeks To Boost Federal Role in School Safety
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Web Resources
  • The welcome letter to the conference participants from President Clinton, gives an overview of the conference.
  • The Juvenile Info Network provided a simulcast of the conference.
  • "Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools," a program from the U.S. Department of Education designed to help school officials detect early warning signs of violent behavior and develop intervention and response plans.
  • State attorneys general and school boards across the country have created "Keep Schools Safe," a clearinghouse for information on preventing and reducing violence.
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