Public Opinion

Television news programs, daily newspapers, government reports, and results of public polls bombard citizens regularly with accounts of assaults, sex crimes, robberies, murders, and vandalism, and with the public response to such crime. This bombardment could feed the fear that much of the public already feels. However, in 1996, the juvenile arrest rate for murder was at its lowest level since the beginning of the decade.1 A 1996 analysis of juvenile homicides examined where such crimes occurred and found that 56 percent of the country's juvenile homicide arrests were made in six States and that four large metropolitan centers (containing only 5.3 percent of the Nation's juvenile population) accounted for 30 percent of such arrests.2 Nonetheless, the media have helped engender widespread fear that violent acts are taking an unacceptable toll on the lives, education, and opportunities of many young people in this country.

Photo, child entering schoolA 1993 national school-based survey that polled a representative sample of high school students showed that students' fear for their personal safety at school or traveling to or from school compelled as many as 4.4 percent of responding students to miss a day of school each month.3 Of the respondents to a 1996 national random telephone survey of more than 1,300 high school students, nearly half of those in public high schools reported drugs and violence as serious problems in their schools.4 Data from a fall 1993 national survey polling 1,000 teachers and 1,180 students in grades 3 through 12 revealed that 23 percent of the responding students and 11 percent of the responding teachers had been victims of violence in and around schools.5

In addition to fearing personal victimization, many students also feel fear in response to violence experienced by other students. For example, in August 1993, USA WEEKEND published an unscientific survey, the results of which were based on the written answers of 65,193 students (6th through 12th graders) who responded individually or as class members. Sixty-three percent reported that they would learn more at school if they felt safer; 43 percent avoided restrooms; 20 percent avoided hallways; and 45 percent avoided the school grounds.6 In a recent survey sponsored by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, nearly one-fourth of students in grades 7 through 12 reported that their schools had very serious problems regarding social tension and violence. These problems were measured by students reporting the occurrence on their campuses of specific behaviors, such as hostile or threatening remarks between groups of students, threats or destructive acts other than physical fights, turf battles between groups of students, physical fights among groups of friends, and gang violence.7

Not only are many students afraid to attend school, but many parents and citizens in general also express concern for children's safety at school. A 1994 national survey of parents of public school 3d through 12th graders indicated that 40 percent of parents of high school students were "very or somewhat worried" about their child's safety while in school or going to and from school.8 The National League of Cities surveyed 700 communities nationwide, including urban, suburban, and rural areas. Results of that 1994 survey revealed that 80 percent of the respondents said violence was a serious problem in classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds; 40 percent reported that violence in schools had increased noticeably during the past 5 years. In addition, 25 percent of the schools participating in the survey reported that in the previous year, students had died or suffered injuries requiring hospitalization as a result of violence.9

Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1998