National Policymakers Trying Range of Measures to Stem School Violence
Responding to a prominent string of school slayings in the past year and a half, federal policymakers have been actively seeking ways for the U.S. government to help stem episodes such as last week's tragedy in Jefferson County, Colo.
The efforts start at the top with "bully pulpit" speeches from President Clinton and extend to a range of preventive measures from several federal agencies, including the departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services.
"We can't look toward the federal [government] to solve the problem," June Arnette, the associate director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif., said last week. Instead, she said, federal officials ought to play a "leadership role" and provide incentives for effective efforts by others.
William Modzeleski, the director of the Education Department's Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program, said his department's focus is on providing leadership, technical assistance, and resources to help schools prevent violence and manage situations where it does occur.
President Clinton last week focused on the leadership role, taking a high-profile approach in discussing the violence at Columbine High School.
"Although this is the worst example of school violence we have seen, it is by no means the only one," he said during a nationally televised April 22 discussion with students in a conflict-resolution program at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.
The president added that while the federal government was taking steps to head off violent outbreaks, "we know that there are things that have to be developed beyond the government and beyond what government can do."
On other occasions last week, Mr. Clinton highlighted a few of the more tangible steps the government is taking, such as hosting a recent White House conference on school safety and producing a handbook by federal agencies, "Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools."
The handbook, distributed to every school in the nation last August, offers strategies to avoid school violence.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley cited several other efforts on school violence in a statement last week.
One is a new, $380 million school-violence-prevention initiative--formally unveiled April 1 by the Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services departments--that offers competitive grants to 50 communities over three years for programs in violence prevention and healthy child development.
Mr. Riley also pointed to a $12 million proposal in the president's fiscal 2000 budget, "Project SERV," that would provide assistance to schools where violent outbreaks occur by paying for immediate crisis counseling and long-term mental health needs.
In Congress, meanwhile, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold its first hearing on school safety issues in early May, said Joe Karpinski, a spokesman for committee Republicans. The hearing will focus on the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, which is authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Just two days after the Colorado shootings, two House subcommittees approved separate bills related to juvenile justice. On April 22, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime approved a bill, HR 1501, that would authorize the Justice Department to make grants totaling $1.5 billion over three years to states and local governments to strengthen their juvenile-justice systems by increasing accountability for juvenile offenders.
The same day, the House education committee's Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families approved HR 1150, a bill focused on prevention and counseling measures, that would consolidate and transfer control of anti-youth-crime programs to the states through lump-sum payments.
In the Senate, Democrat Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said the Columbine High incident should bolster efforts to pass a bill he introduced in late March, the Children's Gun Violence Prevention Act of 1999. "The continuing epidemic of gun violence involving children demands action by Congress," Sen. Kennedy said.
No action is currently scheduled on the legislation.
In other federal efforts, the Clinton administration in October released the first edition of an annual report that tracks school crime nationally. And the Justice Department last fall introduced a program, COPS in Schools, that offers $60 million to local law-enforcement agencies for community-policing efforts to combat school violence.
Vol. 18, Issue 33, Page 19Published in Print: April 28, 1999, as National Policymakers Trying Range Of Measures To Stem School Violence