- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

D.C. school board members say they are shocked by the high numbers of violent incidents in the city's public schools, as reported by The Washington Times, and promise to take action to control in-school assaults.
"I found the numbers very upsetting. The safety of our children is non-negotiable," said board member Tommy Wells, District 3. "If a child does not feel safe at school, they are not going to learn."
Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said she is concerned about any "untoward activity in schools," adding that she hopes to get peer mediation inside every school.
She said it is encouraging that numbers on violence are available and that the school board can do something about the violence. "We have spent a lot of time getting information about which schools are out of control and which ones don't have the right leadership," she said.
The Times reported yesterday that the number of assaults with deadly weapons in the District's schools has doubled during the past four years, with as many as 423 students caught last year alone carrying concealed weapons. Among these were a two-foot sword, several guns, knives and brass knuckles.
Simple assaults in the 68,449-student school district rose from 384 to 475 over four years, and threats against students and staff increased from 156 to 225.
Students told The Times they often saw guns and knives at school, sneaked in through the back door to avoid metal detectors and X-ray machines installed in all D.C. high schools and some middle schools.
Mr. Wells said the board should consider requiring all principals to report every incident of violence and should ask for regular reports of numbers related to school violence.
Mrs. Cafritz said the board recently has looked at the problem of violence in schools and is awaiting reports on the issue from the Operations Committee and the Special Education Committee.
City officials also expressed concern about the rate of in-school violence.
D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Education Committee, said he is concerned about the numbers but said the District's schools are "headed in the right direction" with security measures.
"Clearly, it is very troubling to see any child bringing weapons to school, but I do believe the school system has devoted significant resources to security issues," he said.
Those who have studied school violence say there are several elements inside schools that keep the truth from coming out.
"Teachers are too busy, and students have a code of silence," said Paul Kingery, director of the George Washington University's Hamilton Fish Institute, a D.C.-based nonprofit that deals with school violence.
He said principals, after taking up a new job, do not want to report accurate numbers because the person who previously had the job had not done so. "If they start reporting higher numbers, it is going to reflect badly on them," he said.
While federal law requires that all principals report firearms, he said several did not because they were trying to keep their numbers "artificially low."
D.C. schools Chief of Staff Steve G. Seleznow told The Times that reporting incidents often was subjective and depends almost entirely on the school's principal. "A fight between a couple of children may be reported by one principal, but not by another," he said.
In an effort to increase security, the school system, which says it has a zero-tolerance policy on weapons, spent approximately $8 million during the past four years to install metal detectors, X-ray machines, cameras and security guards in schools.
Mr. Chavous said the metal detectors have helped catch more weapons, but Mr. Kingery said they are "totally useless."
"They are only for public relations, to make parents believe that schools are safe," he said, adding that students were usually a step ahead. One student would go in through the metal detector and then open one of the other, one-way doors to let in another student with a weapon, he said.
The detectors, he said, were a "waste of money."
Parent Susan Gushue said she would rather see the money that is spent on metal detectors be used to improve the condition of crumbling schools.
"A lot of the violence happens when buildings are unwelcoming. It leads to low self-esteem among children," she said.

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