As school bells across the country peal for the last time this
academic year, another sound has been mercifully absent from most
classrooms and hallways: the crackle of gunfire.
This year, for the first time in seven years, no fatal mass
shootings took place in US schools. Though individual tragedies did
occur, even the number of singular incidents was down - a testament,
experts say, to growing vigilance about safety in schools.
"It's very encouraging," says Ronald Stephens, executive director
of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif.
"The numbers demonstrate how school safety has been placed on the
educational agenda in more and more schools across the country.
That's a major shift in the strategic educational climate."
So far, there have been nine shooting fatalities on schoolyards
in the 1999-2000 academic year. That's down from 23 the year before,
the year of Columbine, and 35 in 1997-98. Forty-three were recorded
While experts caution against reading too much into the numbers
for the narrow category of schoolyard homicides, they coincide
with an overall drop in violence - particularly in many urban
Federal figures show that the total number of reported school
crimes declined by almost one-third - from 3.8 million to 2.7
million - between 1993 and 1997. While more recent comprehensive
statistics aren't available, anecdotal evidence suggests assaults,
weapons confiscations, and other indicators of crime continue to
drop in many districts. For instance:
*Violence in Miami-Dade County, Fla., schools declined this year
for the fifth year in a row. Crimes, including gun-related
incidents, are down 23 percent since 1995.
*In Portland, Ore., gun confiscations and the number of students
expelled for carrying weapons has been down substantially from a
*In Alabama, fewer students have been calling a statewide hotline
to report problems that might lead to school violence.
To be sure, none of this is to suggest that the nation's schools
are complete safe havens. In December, a 13-year-old boy opened fire
on his classmates in Muskogee, Okla., wounding five of them. Bomb
scares and threatening graffiti have become commonplace across the
country in the year since Columbine.
What progress has been made on violence, experts say, is
attributable to growing awareness of the problem among parents,
administrators, and teachers. They also cite an arsenal of security
measures - metal detectors, student ID badges, surveillance cameras,
hall security monitors - as well as broader societal trends,
including a booming economy that is generally associated with a
lower adult crime rate.
"I believe the decrease is related to the fact that we're
starting to pay more attention to kids' frustrations and anxieties,
and developing more programs like conflict resolution and increasing
the number of counselors and social workers and school-within-a-
school programs," says Kevin Dwyer, president of the National
Association of School Psychologists. …