Education leaders last week largely applauded a bipartisan congressional panel’s report on youth violence that recommends more federal money be given to schools to hire mental-health workers and identify potential schoolyard killers. But Capitol Hill leaders omitted what some educators see as a crucial ingredient in decreasing youth-violence rates: curbing minors’ access to guns.
The 24-member panel—appointed by Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R- Ill., and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., soon after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado last April—said that many factors, from abusive homes to exposure to violent media, could lead young people to commit violent acts.
Among the group’s extensive list of recommendations to Congress for combatting youth violence are early-intervention programs, such as Head Start, which research suggests can help prevent later delinquent behavior.
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While noting that schools are still the safest places for children to be during the day, and that the number of violent fatalities at schools has declined since 1993, the panel suggested several ways to improve school security.
The report was issued the same week that two students, a 16- and a 19-year-old, were shot and killed across the street from a high school dance in Savannah, Ga., and a 15-year-old was stabbed to death near a high school in New York City during the school day.
The panel urged Congress to establish a school-security-technology center that would serve as a way for districts to share information on high-tech safety strategies.
Money should be made available through the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to set up school-violence hot lines and World Wide Web sites around the country, the report says.
And Congress should provide grants to states and districts to train and hire more counselors and psychologists, the committee urged.
The group also recommended that Congress spur the establishment of schools-within-schools, which panel members said would “create a climate where students feel safe, connected, and supported.” In addition, it proposed that the federal government help pay for more police to monitor juvenile offenders more closely.
And in a media-saturated age in which violent imagery can be disseminated instantly, the panel members suggested that all schools teach media literacy.
David Bernstein, a spokesman for Handgun Control, a Washington- based advocacy group, criticized the panel for failing to address what it perceives as the most important remedy for youth violence, the elimination of easy access to firearms.
“This [report] is about everything but guns,” Mr. Bernstein said.
“The [panel] will talk about violent video games, but they don’t want to talk about a real problem, preventing guns from getting in the hands of kids.”
Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., a member of the panel and a former social worker, defended the group’s work, saying that the most critical solution is building more support for troubled children.
“While superficial, knee-jerk reactions may focus on guns, a more thorough analysis would lead us to focus on the emotional state of America’s children. ... If a faculty member had just reached out to these schools’ shooters, these awful acts would not have happened,” Mr. Greenwood said in an interview last week.
Some education leaders called the panel’s recommendations encouraging, but were dubious that Congress would enact the costlier proposals.
Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals and a former assistant secretary of education in the Clinton administration, said that while he agrees that schools ought to play a greater role in reducing youth violence, the government also needs to take action.
“It’s good news,” Mr. Tirozzi said of the bipartisan panel’s report. “But it becomes better news if the proposals aren’t full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2000 edition of Education Week as Bipartisan Panel Urges More Federal Funding To Curb Youth Violence