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Education Reporter

School Violence Declines, But Discipline Remains a Challenge
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Violent crime against students in schools fell 50% from 1992 to 2002, according to a report from the Education and Justice Departments released in November. Crime outside schools, too, is at a 30-year low.

Anti-crime measures by schools may be partly responsible, including installing metal detectors, hiring more security personnel, and implementing programs against bullying.

The report also found that from 1992 to 2000, students ages 5 to 19 were 70 times more likely to be murdered away from school than on campus.

659,000 is still a lot 
However, students still suffered from 659,000 violent crimes in 2002 and teachers suffered an annual average of more than 90,000 violent crimes at school from 1998 to 2002.

Recent examples of shocking school crimes include:

  • a student's machete slashing of five classmates in Spanish class in Valparaiso, IN (Associated Press, 11-25-04)

  • a reported rape of a 6th-grade boy by an 11-year-old male classmate on a Philadelphia school stairway (philly.com, 11-19-04)

  • a half-hour melee outside a Philadelphia charter school in which more than a dozen neighborhood thugs beat students and seven faculty members at dismissal time, after which the entire 185-student body and more than 50 parents took to the streets to demand a police presence at the school (phillynews.com, 11-19-04)

  • a vicious assault on a Junction City, OR male high school student by two larger non-students who videotaped the event, set it to rap music and distributed the video. The fight took place after a nighttime volleyball game at the school as a crowd of onlookers watched. (Register-Guard, 11-9-04)

Surveys on discipline problems 
The lack of discipline, cooperation and respect in the classroom remains a major frustration to teachers and parents. A study by Public Agenda released last year revealed that nearly 7 in 10 middle and high school teachers say their own schools have serious problems with students who disrupt classes.

In surveys of high school students, large majorities say they often hear cursing in the hallways; more than a third say there is a serious fight at least once a month; and barely one in five says most classmates treat teachers with respect. Nearly 8 out of 10 teachers say students are quick to remind them that they have rights and their parents can sue. Nearly half say that a parent has accused them of unfairly disciplining a child. (Education Week, 6-23-04)

A Rochester, NY elementary school teacher was placed on paid leave last year for washing a 3rd-grade boy's mouth out with soap after he shouted what the teacher described as "a vile, very nasty sexual reference" at a classmate. More than 40 relatives of children in the class asked that the teacher be reinstated. (Associated Press, 6-11-04)

Special ed law relaxed 
In response to the legal risks of disciplining special education students, Congress late last year passed a law limiting lawsuits and allowing such students to be suspended unless they prove their misbehavior is directly tied to their disability. The change to the Individuals With Disabilities Act was inspired in part by a notorious case of a 15-year-old Baldwin County, AL special education student with attention-deficit disorder who was accused of threatening to kill classmates, attacking his mother and commandeering a school bus. (wpmi.com, 12-2-04)

Legal difficulties remain, and not only with special education students. Since two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the mid-1970s, even low-level punishments are subject to student and parental challenges in court, and if public school teachers or principals knowingly violate a student's due process rights, they may be held personally liable for monetary damages.

According to a Harris poll, 85% of teachers and principals believe that reducing the availability of legal challenges to day-to-day management and disciplinary decisions would help improve the quality of education in their schools. (National Review, 10-11-04)

Don't expect corporal punishment to make a comeback. A candidate for a master's degree in education was apparently expelled by LeMoyne College for writing a paper advocating the use of corporal punishment in schools. He received an A- for the paper on classroom management but was barred from enrolling for the spring semester. (The Daily Orange, 1-25-05)

Recess crackdowns don't help 
Recess is disappearing or being curtailed in some school districts, reducing outlets for restless kids. In Tacoma, WA, at least 20 of 36 elementary schools have no breaks except for lunch. (Associated Press, 9-17-04)

Dodgeball is banned in some schools in Maine, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Texas, Massachusetts and Utah. Last November, a New York appellate court refused to dismiss a lawsuit that claims a school wronged a 7-year-old girl by allowing dodgeball. The girl broke her elbow. (Associated Press, 11-20-04)

In some California school districts, dodgeball, tag, and cops and robbers are forbidden. Even pushing a fellow student on a swing may be considered too dangerous. Fear of lawsuits may be one of the motivating factors. (sacbee.com, 8-22-04) Such policies may also reflect the modern trend toward eliminating competition. (See Briefs.)

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