- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002


Metal detectors and surveillance cameras have sharply reduced weapons and crime at the nation's schools, but a government report says students are more fearful because of a problem that hasn't changed the school bully.

"Away from school, kids can stay away from their enemy. On campus, they can't really escape," said Curt Lavarello, who works with school police officers.

Over the years, the percentage of assaults, thefts and other crimes at schools has steadily gone down. Six percent of students ages 12 to 18 said they were victims of crimes last year, compared with 10 percent in 1995. The largest drop came for students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

In a 1995 survey, 12 percent of high school students said they carried a weapon at school in the past 30 days. That dropped to 6 percent in 2001, according to a joint report by the Education and Justice departments.

But while security measures have helped stop guns and knives from getting into schools, they can't do much about the bully.

Nine percent of students said they had been threatened or injured with a weapon last year, up slightly from two years ago. There also was a 3 percent increase in students who reported being bullied.

"Bullying was accepted as part of the tradition of the school. That has to change," said William Modzeleski, who heads the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. "We're starting to recognize that this is a serious issue and beginning to address it."

Mr. Modzeleski said school administrators should treat bullying the same way they treat other aggressive behavior.

"Bullying can lead to more assaultive behavior," Mr. Modzeleski said.

A survey last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 10,000 children stayed home from school at least once a month because they feared bullies, and half the children surveyed said they were bullied once a week.

The government report, compiled from police reports and interviews with students and principals, also found:

•The percentage of students who reported street gangs in their school fell from 29 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2001.

•Twenty-nine percent of students said drugs were available on campus 3 percent fewer than in 1995. There was no change in the percentage of students who had used marijuana.

•Twelve percent of students said someone at school had called them a derogatory word having to do with race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sex or sexual orientation. About 36 percent saw hate-related graffiti at school.

Mr. Lavarello said school officials have been doing a better job in recent years of balancing prevention programs and crime intervention.

But he said the dropping crime statistics may not be entirely accurate.

A Sept. 25 survey by the National Association of School Resource Officers found that 89 percent of officers said crime on campus is under-reported to police. Mr. Lavarello, the group's executive director, said principals are often pressured to minimize crime statistics at their school.

As a result, he said, they often refer to thefts as missing property and assaults simply as fights.

"A kid may be a victim of assault and battery but they treat it as a horseplaying incident," Mr. Lavarello said.

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