Saturday, August 28, 1999

Four of five remain confident that local schools are safe

But after Columbine, violence a worry

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — As children stream back into schoolhouses, four out of five Americans say in an Associated Press poll that schools in their communities are relatively safe. But two-thirds say posting police officers in hallways would help cut violence.

        The poll, conducted for the AP by ICR of Media, Pa., also indicates many people feel cutting back on television and movie violence would help.

        People have had the summer to assess their feelings on school violence after two students killed a dozen classmates, a teacher and themselves last April at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. A sheriff's deputy was on duty at the school when the shootings occurred.

        While 65 percent felt a police presence in schools would cut violence, 33 percent felt it would not.

        “I like the idea of a human being, someone the kids could go to” if there were trouble, said Mary Beth Corvati, a mother of two children in Harford County, Md., one of 1,016 surveyed in the poll.

        Officers were a popular option, but Americans were less certain that metal detectors would help. Fifty percent said they would help, 47 percent that they would not.

        “I would like for my children to view a police officer as someone who could help preserve their safety, be a role model — someone they could look up to,” Mrs. Corvati said. “I don't think my children could look up to a metal detector.”

        Reducing violence in TV shows and movies was cited by one-third of those surveyed as the most effective way to stop school violence. Women, Republicans and older Americans were most likely to choose that option. Another 22 percent said increased counseling for teen-agers would be most effective. Stricter gun laws and putting metal detectors in schools were chosen most effective by 16 percent each.

        In another AP poll in May, 23 percent chose metal detectors as the most effective curb of school violence.

        The latest poll, taken Aug. 20 through Wednesday, had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

        Carrie Clark, a mother of two young children from Dover, N.H., feels that violent entertainment is harmful to children, and “the parents have ultimate control of that.”

        “We watch PBS, and I have the Disney movies,” she said, noting she also keeps toy guns away from her children.

        “I don't let them play with toy guns, but they build Legos into guns,” she said. “My daughter's play hairdryer is a gun. When I'm in another room I hear them (say), "Bang, bang. I'm going to kill you,' or shooting their stuffed animals.”

        Despite the Littleton shootings and other high-profile cases of violence in schools, only 14 percent of Americans consider their schools unsafe.

        Blacks were more likely than whites — 30 percent to 10 percent — to say schools in their community were either “not too safe” or “not safe at all.”

        Officials with the administrators' association don't have a firm count of schools with officers, but Bruce Hunter, spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators, said he doesn't think a majority of high schools have them yet.

        The Colorado shootings struck a nerve, however, in rural and suburban districts.

        “The biggest effect of Columbine was that it affected districts that never had to deal with it,” said Paul D. Houston, the group's executive director.


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