Sunday, April 16, 2000

Students feel safe in school, but uneasy

Security measures reassuring, polls find

BY Lucy May
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Greater Cincinnati teens worry more about their grades than their safety.

[photo] Mason police officer Todd Carter stands watch near a main entrance of Mason High School
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Still, nearly 1 in 4 Tristate teens does not feel safe in school, according to local results of USA Weekend's latest Teen Survey.

        That one statistic should alarm us all, said Jan Fritz, a clinical sociologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati.

        “If a quarter of my children were afraid to go to school, I would find that pretty horrible,” she said. “I think that's way too high a percentage of kids to be going through this.”

        Michelle Tucker, an eighth-grader at Dater Junior High, said she generally feels safe but she worries “because of all the schools that have had violence.”

        “I'm scared our school might have that,” said Michelle, a 13-year-old from Price Hill. “Just like what happened at Columbine.”

        What happened was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. A year ago Thursday, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot to death 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves at the Littleton, Colo., high school.

        It was the worst in a recent series of deadly school shootings that left educators wondering what, if anything, they can do to prevent such violence.

        The 13th annual Teen Survey, conducted by USA Weekend in partnership with Teen People magazine, asked teens to rate their schools and say whether they felt safe. Locally, students gave their schools a B and noted many schools use metal detectors, security guards, random locker searches and security cameras.

        More than one-third of the local students who responded to the survey — 36 percent — said there are guns in their homes and 57 percent of those teens said they can gain access to the gun.

        Local experts who examined the Teen Survey results noted the poll does not represent a scientific sampling of student opinion.

        The questionnaires were published in USA Weekend in October. Teens across the country — 129,593 of them — completed and sent back the surveys. The Enquirer got results from 1,321 Greater Cincinnati teens.

        More scientific, national studies conducted in recent years showed a mixed picture of school safety:

        • 26 percent of students surveyed reported having “very serious problems” with physical fights between different groups of friends, according to a 1996 survey of public school students in grades seven through 12. It was commissioned by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

        • 10 percent of all public schools experienced one or more serious violent crimes (murder, rape or other sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery) that were reported to police during the 1996-97 school year, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

        • 45 percent of elementary schools reported one or more violent incidents compared with 74 percent of middle schools and 77 percent of high schools, according to that same study.

        • Another study done in 1997 reported that 4 percent of students missed at least one day of school during the 30 days preceding the survey because they felt unsafe at school or felt unsafe traveling to and from school. The survey was commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and polled students nationwide in grades nine through 12.

        • That same CDC survey reported 5.9 percent of students carried a gun (not necessarily to school) at least once during the 30 days preceding the survey.

        Local teens who filled out the USA Weekend survey said their schools don't have a lot of troublemakers.

        “There's just not a whole lot of weird stuff that goes on,” said Adam Byrd, an eighth-grader at Ockerman Middle School in Florence. “There's probably a few kids who are there to try to cause trouble. But they don't get away with much at all.”

        Students also have noticed and appreciate the extra steps their schools have taken in recent years to keep them safe. The School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine, for example, has 16 security cameras and a team of hired guards. Cincinnati Police Officer Calvin Johnson, the school resource officer, checks daily to make sure students are behaving and the school is safe.

        Having a school with students as young as 9 in a downtown neighborhood makes safety a priority, Principal Jeff Brokamp said. “It's frankly the kind of thing that keeps you up at night.”

        SCPA's efforts have made a difference for Lindsay Gorman. A 17-year-old junior from Finneytown, Lindsay said she feels safer at SCPA than she has at rural schools she's attended.

        In many ways, urban schools have for years been more prepared for violence than their rural and suburban counterparts, said Roger Effron, a former school principal and visiting professor in Xavier University's school of education.

        “The Columbine situation was a wake-up call for many of the school districts across America that once believed all the problems in school violence were in the city,” he said.

        For the past four years, Mr. Effron has led Xavier's school safety seminar, teaching educators how to prepare for the worst.

        The first year, 15 people registered. For the past two years, since school shootings started grabbing national headlines, the 75-person seminars have sold out quickly.

        More and more schools are using metal detectors and security cameras and are creating crisis management plans so teachers and students know how to react to a dangerous student or intruder.

        Fairfield Middle School's cameras near the bathroom and the main entrances make 7th-grader Nathanial Burzynski feel safer, he said. “If anyone comes in and is planning to do something and they see (the camera), it might give them second thoughts.”

        In addition to cameras, Mason High School has plans for students and teachers if an intruder enters the building. Also, starting this year, students have not been allowed to carry book bags during the day, said Shannon Culbertson, a 15-year-old sophomore.

        Shannon says she's had no reason to be fearful at school, but she and her friends know that no security measures are fool-proof.

        “I think people my age realize that none of that can really stop a person,” she said. “I think that's pretty much the reason I don't feel in danger in school.”


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