Finding Real Solutions to End School Violence

School is out for many students in Texas and across the country. And scores of children can breathe a sigh of relief that they survived another year -- literally. Schools should be safe havens for our nation’s youth. Instead, over the past two years some schools have become assassination havens where we have witnessed our children becoming casualties. “To go Columbine” is a threat disgruntled students use where the repercussions are instantly, and chillingly understood. The overall youth crime rate has decreased over the last decade. But we must do more to ensure that the very public places where our children spend the most time outside of the home - in schools - are safer. The brutal killing of innocent children at our educational institutions must end now, yet no one seems to have the answers as to how we can stop this madness. And we find ourselves dangerously numb to another school shooting that provides the media fodder for a 48-hour news cycle. Then it is dropped until the next atrocity happens on a school’s campus, and we are immediately reminded of this sickening horror that won’t go away: innocent children being murdered by children. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites homicide as the second leading cause of death for persons 15 to 24 years of age, and it is the leading cause of death for African-American and Hispanic youth in this age-group. According to the U.S. Justice Department, homicides committed by youth under 18 accounted for 11.4% of all homicides in 1999. In the 1998-99 school year, a total of 35 school age children were murdered in or around school grounds or on the way to and from school. If there is anything we have learned as a nation of concerned parents, it is that one of these frightening events can happen anywhere at anytime. What parents are not just a little bit afraid to send their kids off to school in the morning, not knowing if the unthinkable might happen in their community? As a former high school teacher and the mother of three children who attended high school only ten years ago, I am shocked to see this kind of violence in our schools. How did it come to this? There could be a multitude of reasons. Is it the media culture promoting violence? Is there a lack of involvement on the part of some parents? Does the child have few friends or hang out with a delinquent crowd? Is there drug and alcohol abuse? Will fellow students not come forward when they hear dangerous threats? A study of 15,000 teenagers recently released by the Josephson Institute of Ethics finds that more than one in three students claim they don’t feel safe at school. They might have good reason to be cautious. Many kids themselves think violence is an acceptable release for anger - 43 percent of high school and 37 percent of middle school boys believe it’s okay to hit or threaten someone who made them angry. Nearly one in five girls agreed. And then there were a high percentage of teenagers who admitted to committing violence: Seventy-five percent of boys and sixty percent of girls surveyed said they had hit someone in the previous year because they were angry. More than one in five high school boys took a weapon to school in the past year. These percentages go up even further when alcohol abuse is factored in – Sixteen percent of all high school student say they have been drunk at school. Eighty-three percent of those who have been drunk have hit someone in the past year, and forty-eight percent brought a weapon to school. There are deeper problems than gun control and metal detectors can solve. There are issues of character, family involvement and education that need to be addressed. We need to find the answers so we can better address these terrible acts of violence being committed by children. Congress must play a role in finding ways to quell this kind of deadly and destructive behavior. I'm afraid that too many are anxious to be seen doing something about youth violence. There are hundreds of youth violence prevention programs in schools and communities around the nation. But according to a report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General last January, relatively little is known about the scientific effectiveness of these programs. The report also determined that nearly half of the most thoroughly evaluated strategies that were thought to prevent youth violence were ineffective. And some were actually found to harm participants! Well, I don't want to just do something. I want to do the right thing to make our schools safe again. That will take careful thought and consideration. I have introduced legislation that will establish a National Commission on Youth Crime and School Violence. This commission will call together experts from around the country to determine the root causes of youth crime and violence. They will then make recommendations to Congress for review and consideration. I have appealed to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in finding real solutions to end school violence. We owe it to our children. While the overall youth crime rate has gone down, we must not rest. Too many of our youth are committing violent crime. Many students, teachers, and parents continue to have real concerns about safety in schools. It is my hope that the National Commission on Youth Crime and School Violence would address the entirety of the issue and provide a compass for our nation. This we know: law enforcement, mental health providers, social services, the faith community, juvenile justice authorities, schools, and parents must all work together to fully address the problem of youth violence. The communities that have been most successful at reducing crime have called on all sectors of society to work together. We cannot simply solve the problem of youth crime with more laws and more punishment. Society must take a holistic approach. The National Commission on Youth Crime and School Violence will provide the national leadership necessary to ensure that all of our kids attend schools that are safe.

  By Congresswoman Kay Granger