More than 6,000 U.S. students were expelled for bringing a weapon to school last year, according to new federal figures that Vice President Al Gore released at a conference here last week.
The preliminary count of 6,276 students--most of whom were kicked out for carrying guns--is based on reports from 29 states and the District of Columbia. It is expected to grow as more states report their findings by the July 1 deadline, the first of what will become an annual event.
The federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 required every state to pass a law by last year mandating expulsion for students who bring guns to school or risk losing federal aid. Mr. Gore said the statistics show that such zero-tolerance policies are making schools safer.
“These numbers are irrefutable proof that President Clinton’s plan to make our schools safe and drug-free is working,” Mr. Gore declared.
The vice president’s remarks were greeted with applause at the conference of more than 250 drug education and violence-prevention coordinators. They gathered here to swap strategies on what works and what doesn’t work in their fields.
The Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, which hosted the event, has been criticized by Republicans in Congress for subsidizing programs that studies suggest have a dubious effect on fighting crime or thwarting student drug use. Congressional critics have faulted the Clinton administration for sponsoring efforts such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or dare, the popular prevention program that enlists police officers to deliver anti-drug-use messages to students but that many researchers claim has a marginal effect on curbing substance abuse.
Attempts to slash the budget for the safe- and drug-free-schools program were foiled last year, but many Education Department officials are bracing for another budget fight this summer.
Rooted in Research
As if to answer the critics, administration officials at the conference repeatedly emphasized in their speeches that federal grants would be directed at programs that are firmly rooted in scientific research.
“Our job now is to ensure that every dollar we spend on these programs is spent effectively,” Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a meeting hall packed with state and local drug- and violence-prevention coordinators. “Let’s keep the good [programs], but let us have the backbone to make changes when changes are necessary,” Mr. Riley said.
To give state and local leaders some direction on what strategies are considered most effective, William Modzeleski, the director of the safe- and drug-free-schools program, said his office was planning later this year to produce a guide for schools detailing the elements of research-tested drug education and anti-violence programs.
Mr. Modzeleski said the guide was likely to be similar to a pamphlet that the National Institute on Drug Abuse recently produced on preventing substance abuse by children and adolescents. The federal agency’s guide says that the most effective school-based programs teach students communication skills, are administered consistently, and engage students beginning in the middle school years.
White House Endorsement
While the Education Department’s guide is unlikely to endorse a particular drug education or violence-prevention program, one strategy got a push from the White House last week.
At an elementary school in Washington, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton released a guidebook designed to help keep neighborhood schools open before and after regular hours. The 50-page Education Department booklet offers practical suggestions to transform schools into “community learning centers” that offer recreation, mentoring, drug-prevention efforts, and safety programs for students.
Federal statistics show that 23 million school-age children have parents who work, and that only 3.4 percent of elementary and middle school students are enrolled in before- or after-school programs. Most juvenile crimes occur between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., federal figures show.
Although some of the drug education experts attending the conference praised the government’s attention to the issue of prevention, many hope that in their quest to finance only research-tested programs, federal officials won’t ignore promising new ideas.
“We are on the same page with our goals of making a safer environment,” said Robert Washington, who teaches substance-abuse prevention in the District of Columbia schools. But, Mr. Washington said, sometimes it’s hard to see an immediate effect.