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Violence Invades Schoolyards

Last week’s shooting near Monroe High School sent understandably nervous parents scrambling to make sure their children were safe. The shooting of two students during an after-school fight was the third in less than a year near the North Hills campus. Sadly, as Assistant Principal Thane Opfell noted: “We are a microcosm of the community we serve.”

Incidents like the one at Monroe highlight the dangers students face every day on campuses once thought immune from outside ills. They are not. Roughly 10% of all public schools experienced at least one serious crime during the 1996-97 school year. And in 1997, 10% of high school students carried a weapon on campus. So scared are some students, that 5% of high-schoolers said they stayed home at least once during the year out of fear of violence.

In the wake of last week’s shooting, school police increased patrols on campus to reassure parents and students. Students, teachers and academics who study campus violence all agree that it has deep, tangled roots: Bad parenting, peer pressure, and drugs and alcohol. In addition to the obvious posting of more guards and police on campuses, school violence can be decreased through programs that address the underlying causes.

Some campuses have reported success with counseling and conflict resolution programs that help young people sort through their anger and frustration with words rather than fists or guns. Others have launched classes that help parents do their jobs better and set positive examples for their kids. But not all approaches are so touchy-feely. Something as simple as having a job can keep a teenager out of trouble.

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Most important, though, young people should not have such easy access to firearms. School fights once were relatively sane affairs in which noses got bloodied and teeth got chipped. Too often now, they end in gunfire.


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