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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
September 1, 1998
Vol. 56
No. 1

Policy Link / Toward Peaceable Schools

As students return to school this month, many will exhibit an unfortunate geographic literacy. They'll know where to place Jonesboro, Arkansas; Edinboro, Pennsylvania; West Paducah, Kentucky; and Springfield, Oregon, on a map. Memories of the horrendous school violence in these towns are still raw. We can find sad irony in the fact that the French legislature, citing fears that our violent culture would reverberate across the Atlantic, recently tightened that nation's already restrictive gun control laws. Still, the new school year brings fresh hope for peace in our classrooms.
During the 1998 legislative session, 28 states introduced school safety legislation. The proposals cover a broad spectrum from punishment to prevention, but many died in committee or failed to gain adequate bipartisan support. Several new state school safety laws, however, have been enacted. Kentucky's House Bill 330, for example, will establish a state center for school safety to research violence prevention efforts and disseminate results to school districts.
At the federal level, the need to make schools safer has become a rallying cry of the Clinton administration and a popular election issue for political office-seekers nationwide. When the President announced plans for the October 15 White House summit on school safety, he also urged educators to support curfews, school uniforms, and crackdowns on truancy.

Beyond Metal Detectors

As legislators take high-profile stances to improve school safety, the essential question of what constitutes effective policies and programs remains. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted extensive evaluations of 13 leading violence prevention efforts, including widely recognized Resolving Conflicts Creatively Program. Early reports from this large-scale research substantiate the wisdom that preventing school violence involves comprehension programs that forge close, trusting relationships and help young people develop a host of healthy behaviors, including conflict resolution and anger management skills. Other recent research on the effectiveness of high-tech school safety measures, including metal detectors and surveillance cameras, finds these approaches to be only —ally helpful in most settings.
The center's research lends authority to what many educators already know: that focusing on the hardware of control will not resolve dilemmas involving the software of our students' hearts. Following the spate of school violence last spring, Education Secretary Richard Riley said, "We must commit ourselves to one very basic idea: that every child in America in a school has a positive and caring relationship with at least one adult." As educators, we can be that adult. And we can also be the persistent voice that works for the caring policies we need to live and learn in safe schools.

Joan Montgomery Halford has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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