Report: Most Schools Are Safe

Although shootings with multiple deaths - such as those that took place last year in Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; and Springfield, Oregon - grabbed headlines, crime in schools nationwide is actually declining, and theft and fights are the most commonly reported crimes, according to a new report.

The first Annual Report on School Safety says that the crime rate in schools is declining, from 164 crimes per 1,000 students in 1993 to about 128 such crimes in 1996. However, children feel less safe in school because of high-profile incidents of violence.

"We are very familiar with Jonesboro and Paducah and all of those incidents that were horrible," Education Secretary Richard Riley told CBS This Morning Co-anchor Mark McEwen. "We had some six this year, multiple homicides. In normal years, there had been one or two or none.

"So that is something that had been very bad this year. But that's a very rare situation. We have really safe, safe schools and safe communities."

The findings of the report will be discussed Thursday at the White House Conference on School Safety: Causes and Prevention of Youth Violence. The conference is sponsored by President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Vice President Al Gore.

The report is intended to give parents, principals, and policy makers an accurate yearly snapshot of school crime, as well as to provide information on practical steps they can take to make their schools safer.

"The main thing is, Riley said, "we need to pay attention to this. Every school needs a plan, needs to get everybody involved, connect up with other organizationsÂ… and see what their problems are, if any, and have a plan to deal with it."

While crime-fighting devices such as metal detectors and ID cards can be useful at schools with proven problems, he said, the best efforts should be aimed at "prevention instead of enforcement."

The major findings of the report are:

  • Most schools are safer than the community at large. While the overall level of school and non-school crime is about the same, students are more than twice as likely to experience serious violent crime while out of school.
  • Serious crime and violence are concentrated in a small percentage of schools. Only about 10 percent of public schools report serious or violent crimes, and 43 percent report no crimes at all.
  • Violence is more likely in larger urban schools and among older students. One third of large schools (those with 1,000 or more students) report serious violent crimes to police, compared with fewer than one-tenth of small schools.
  • Fistfights and theft are the most common crimes. Theft is the most common school crime overall.
  • There are fewer weapons in schools. About six percent of high school seniors are carrying firarms and other weapons to schools.
  • Gang presence has nearly doubled. From 1989 to 1995, the percentage of students reporting the presence of street gangs in their schools increased from 15 percent to 28 percent.
  • Violence and drugs are linked. Students who reported being the victims of violent crimes at schools were more likely to report the availability of drugs at school.
  • Teachers are often crime victims. On average, three percent of teachers are the victims of violent crimes, and nearly five percent are the victims of theft at school.