More than 350 students got a chance to speak their piece during the Voices Against Violence Congressional Teen Conference convened here last week by the House’s top Democrat.
“Violent crime is at a seven-year low, but it has been a tough time for American youth,” Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the House minority leader, told the crowd of junior high and high school students.
They were selected by 127 Democratic and 3 Republican members of Congress to attend the two-day conference held Oct. 19 and 20.
“We realized there was something missing from this debate: your input,” Mr. Gephardt, a Democrat, said. “You understand what causes school violence, and you see its effects. You’re the experts we need to listen to.”
The conference also provided President Clinton, who met with attendees on Oct. 19, with an opportunity to release the “1999 Annual Report on School Safety,” which was prepared by the departments of Education and Justice.
“It shows that, once again, the vast majority of schools are safe. Crimes are down, in and out of school,” Mr. Clinton said of the report. “The bad news is we’ve had Columbine, Jonesboro, Springfield, Pearl--I could go on and on--all of these places where there have been horrible examples of school violence.”
According to the report, school crime rates declined between 1993 and 1997, from an estimated 155 school-related crimes for every 1,000 students ages 12 to 18 to about 102 such crimes.
Most school crime involves theft, and students ages 12 to 18 were more likely to be victims of serious violent crime away from school than at school.
In 1997, the last year for which statistics were available, about 24 out of every 1,000 students were victims of serious violent crime, while only eight of every 1,000 students were victims of such crimes at school or going to and from school, the study found.
Over the course of two days, the teenagers here met in small groups to discuss the causes of youth violence, learn about violence prevention, craft responses to violence, and learn skills to implement solutions.
In addition, two California school administrators who traveled to 32 cities this past summer to talk with youngsters about violence shared their findings from what they call the “Children’s Crusade.”
Howard Haas, the former principal of La Miranda High School in La Miranda, Calif., and Alex Aitcheson, the former director of education services for the 10,200-student Val Verde Unified School District in Riverside County, put more than 60 hours of one-on-one interviews and classroom discussions on videotape during their two-month trek. The two hope to chronicle their efforts in a documentary.
Mr. Clinton also took time at the meeting to touch on proposals by his administration.
He briefly cited his education budget priorities, which include funding to help hire more teachers, build and renovate schools, and expand mentoring programs.
Echoing Mr. Gephardt, he also urged Congress to pass gun-control legislation to “help us to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”
In addition, he asked the students to “speak up” for hate-crime legislation, noting the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, in Wyoming a year ago and the shootings at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles in August.
“You live in the most modern of all worlds, and yet the biggest problem we’ve got is the oldest of human society: People being scared of people who are different from them. And you can help that,” the president said.