Twenty percent of American middle schools and high schools reported at least one serious crime such as rape or robbery to police last year, the Education Department said Thursday.
The department's survey estimated, based on data from a 1,200-school sample, that public schools nationwide experienced more than 11,000 fights in which weapons were used, 4,000 rapes and other sexual assaults and 7,000 robberies.
Student crime is mostly in larger urban schools, the survey found. In fact, 43% of public schools reported zero crimes--serious or minor--in the 1996-97 school year.
At a White House ceremony, President Clinton told educators, law enforcement officials and members of Congress: "The threat of such violence hangs over children's heads and closes their minds to learning. We cannot let violence, guns and drugs stand between our children and the education they need."
The survey on school crime was conducted by the Education Department's National Center for Education and Statistics. The survey, based on responses from school principals, counted crimes reported to police at schools, aboard school buses or at school-sponsored events.
The elementary, middle and high schools surveyed were in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Clinton urged Congress to pass a 1999 budget that includes additional spending to hire 100,000 teachers, modernize older schools and keep schools open for youth activities after hours on school days.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on youth violence, said: "Juvenile justice officials and schools must form partnerships to remove young criminals from classrooms and make them safer places for learning."
Among the survey's major findings:
* Ten percent of schools reported at least one serious violent crime during the last school year. Counting only middle and high schools, the proportion rises to 20%. Elementary schools had far less of a problem with student crime, especially violent crime.
* Crime was more common at larger schools. One-third of schools with enrollments of 1,000 or more reported at least one serious violent crime, compared to 4% to 9% in schools with fewer than 1,000 students.
* Schools in cities were at least twice as likely to report serious violent crime as those in towns and in rural areas.
* Crimes were more likely to occur in schools with the highest proportion of minority students. Among schools where at least half the students are minorities, 68% reported crime, compared to 47% of schools with less than 50% minority enrollment.