A Personal Approach

By Douglas C. Breunlin, Carol Miller Lieber, Lynn Simon, and Rocco A. Cimmarusti

School violence is serious and pervasive. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that violent deaths from school-associated events have actually decreased since 1992, but according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, rates have not changed for other types of crimes at school -- including being threatened or injured with a weapon. Indeed, the Center for Mental Health Services reports, 47 percent of teens surveyed for one poll perceived that their schools were becoming more violent.

"This increasing anxiety in students about the possibility of violence comes with good cause," the center reports. "Since the 1978 Congressional Safe School Study reported that approximately 282,000 students and 5,200 teachers were physically assaulted in secondary schools every month, the statistics on youth violence have become even more alarming."

During the 1996-97 academic year, the center reports that 21 percent of all public high schools and 19 percent of all public middle schools reported at least one serious violent crime -- murder, rape, other types of sexual battery, physical attack or fight with a weapon, robbery, or suicide -- to law enforcement agencies. Another 47 percent of public schools reported a less serious violent or nonviolent crime, such as a physical attack or fight without a weapon, theft or larceny, and vandalism. "Fights that, in earlier years, resulted in black eyes, bloody noses, or minor bruises now often involve a serious injury or death," the report states.

These rare but lethal incidents of violence -- such as the Columbine and Santee tragedies -- have galvanized society to address school-based violence. Confronted with the stark reality that violence can strike anywhere, and understandably anxious to protect their students, school leaders are searching for proven approaches to violence prevention. They can choose between two major approaches: those that involve tightened security, and those that attempt to solve the problem of violence.

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