Are Parochial Schools Safer? Some Say since the Cause for Increasing Violence Hasn't Been Identified, Teaching Religion Can't Be Cited as a Deterrent

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Byline: Sue Ter Maat Daily Herald Staff Writer

Fellow students purposely tripped Anne Kwiatt on the bus at her public school and called her a "dork" because she was a gangly kid with braces and glasses, she said. But when she began parochial school, a lot of the taunting stopped.

"I still get picked on, but it is not as bad," said Kwiatt, who went to a public middle school and is now a 16-year-old junior at Carmel High School in Mundelein. "Here we have Catholic teachings, stressing equality and accepting people for what they are."

Some parochial school leaders point to teaching religious values as a way to stop school violence. Some leaders contend that these values are one of the best ways to reinforce respect and tolerance among students, but some sociologists and public school administrators dismiss this notion.

While most school shootings happen in public schools, parochial schools are not immune to it. For instance, in March, a girl in a Catholic High School in Pennsylvania shot a classmate who was picking on her.

Many educators in parochial schools point to lack of religious teachings as one major reason why most shootings happen in public schools.

"Over the last 50 years, the word of God has been banned from our public schools and now we are reaping the whirlwind that has resulted from it," said Philip Bennett, principal of Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights. Christian Liberty is a nondenominational school that teacher from kindergarten through high school. "There is a need for more Christian values to retard with kind of moral decay."

Other educators say there are other factors inherent in parochial schools that contribute to fewer shootings but religious teachings stand as one of the stronger influences.

While smaller class size and more parental involvement common in private schools play a role in preventing violence, Christian values should not be underestimated, said the Rev. John Smyth, executive director of Maryville Academy, a home for dependent and neglected children in Des Plaines.

Teaching and reinforcing Christian values of respect, tolerance and forgiveness creates an atmosphere that may diffuse a potentially volatile situation, he said.

"There is no question it helps," Smyth said. "It does not determine everything, but it can stop bullying if you teach students to respect everyone."

Montini Catholic School, in McHenry, has seen a drop in behavior problems since instituting a conflict resolution class, centering around the first four books of the New Testament, said Principal Sheila Murphy.

Before the class, there were about 10 detentions per week, and now the average is about five. Also, the nature of the detentions have changed from bullying to mostly handing in late assignments, she said.

"We are able to teach to the whole of the child," Murphy said. "It is not just academics."

Montini students say the course has helped them cope with negative feelings.

Katie Mattoon said she knows how to handle a emotionally charged situation with her peers.

"I have learned how to share my feelings," said 13-year-old Mattoon. "If someone pushes me around I know what to tell them: 'I don't like that because you're hurting my feelings.'"

And while this same sort of curriculum could be taught in public school, it would not work as well without accompanying religious values, said 13-year-old Montini student Nick Roberts.

"The Golden Rule comes from the Bible," Roberts said. "It is hard to teach that without bringing up it came from God."

Values or religion?

Some college professors don't buy the argument that teaching religious values may prevent shootings.

"I have not heard anything to justify that the lack of (religious) values was the cause," said Fred Kniss, associate professor of sociology at Loyola University in Chicago. …