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School Violence Declining, but Bullying, Theft and Gang Presence Persist

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By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 11, 2009

Even though spasms of intense violence erupt on campuses occasionally and linger in the social consciousness, violence at schools across the country has been decreasing for a number of years.

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That doesn't necessarily mean schools are safe havens. Consider:

-- Eighty-six percent of public schools in 2005-06 reported that one or more violent incidents, thefts of items valued at $10 or greater or other crimes had occurred -- a rate of 46 crimes per 1,000 enrolled students.

-- Almost a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied inside school.

-- Nearly a quarter of teenagers reported the presence of gangs at their schools.

The statistics appear in a federal report published last month, the latest in a series on crime in schools nationwide. The publication of "Indicators of School Crime and Safety" coincided with the 10th anniversary of the slaying of 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado by two students, who then killed themselves.

"For both students and teachers, victimization at school can have lasting effects," the report says. "In addition to experiencing loneliness, depression, and adjustment difficulties, victimized children are more prone to truancy, poor academic performance, dropping out of school and violent behaviors."

The annual reports, a combined effort of the Education and Justice departments, use the most recent statistics available. Federal authorities cull information from a handful of surveys and studies. For the 2009 report, much of the data came from the 2006-07 school year, when an estimated 55.5 million students were enrolled from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Statistics tell only part of the story, and they are a result of imperfect reporting systems. Education leaders acknowledge the difficulty of obtaining an accurate picture of violence in schools. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, some schools are labeled "persistently dangerous." Criteria for that label vary from state to state and can include severe criminal incidents or cumulative disciplinary cases. But experts say any attempt to pinpoint issues with particular schools is problematic because principals are not keen to report incidents that might cast their schools in a bad light. In addition, principals often differ on approaches to measuring and defusing conflicts.


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