School Violence In The Spotlight

The U. S. Senate is moving quickly to help prevent tragedies like this week's school massacre in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Lawmakers Thursday approved a measure that would provide up to $10 million a year for research into improving school security.

It calls for opening up a special, School Security Technology Center at a government lab in New Mexico that designs components for nuclear weapons. The proposal is attached to a midyear spending bill that must still pass the House.

Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., says he's also drafting legislation to hold adults responsible when their guns are used by children in a crime.

Attorney General Janet Reno already has called for such penalties. Speaking at her weekly press briefing, Reno said Thursday that there should be consequences for parents "who give guns to children."

President Clinton, after a long telephone conversation with the principal of the Arkansas school where five people were gunned down, said Friday any federal review of the shootings would wait until the community has had "a chance to grieve."

Mr. Clinton made his remarks about the schoolyard killings at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark., during the opening of a news conference with South African President Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Clinton said he had spoken by telephone Thursday night with the Arkansas governor, the Jonesboro mayor and the Westside Middle School principal Karen Curtner.

"I hope, as I've said before that all of us including the federal authorities and members of the press corps will give the people in Jonesboro a chance to grieve and bury those who have died," Mr. Clinton said.

"Then, after a decent period, after I return home, the attorney general, I and others have got to compare this incident with the other two that have occured in the last few months ... to try and determine what they have in common and whether there are other things we should do to prevent this kind of thing."

Mr. Clinton said the schoolyard shooting has highlighted a growing national problem. Just one week ago, the president released a White House survey showing that one in 10 American schools experience an incidence of serious violence last year.

"This is third such shooting involving children in the last several months and I plan to talk to the Attorney General to see if there's anything we can do to help solve this," President Clinton said during his trip to Africa Wednesday.

Last week, Mr. Clinton announced $17.5 million in new financing for school safety projects. The money, from the Justice Department's community-policing and school-safety program, will pay for anti-crime partnerships among law enforcement agencies, schools and community groups.

The survey released by the White House was produced by the Education Department's National Center for Education and Statistics and counted only crimes that were repored to police. It was based on responses to questionnaires sent to principals from more than 1,200 elementary, middle and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Among the survey's findings:

  • 43 percent of schools reported no incidents of crime in the 1996-97 school year.

  • 80 percent of schools reported five or fewer crimes.

  • 10 percent of schools reported serious violence crimes. These include an estimated 11,000 physical attacks or fights in which a weapon was used; 7,000 robberies, and 4,000 rapes or other kinds of sexual assault.

  • Crime was more common at larger schools.

  • Principals rate absenteeism, tardiness and fights as the three most common discipline problems among
    students.

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