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Is Back-to-School also Back-to-Violence?

Are we doing enough to curb violence in schools? Or is it the wrong approach altogether?

The debate wages on over New York City's safety measures for curbing violence on school grounds: Are the current policies too strict… or still, not strict enough?

A little more than a decade ago, the city granted authority to the New York City Police Department to take over the management of public school safety with a "zero tolerance" policy, based on the theory that cracking down on minor offenses would help reduce overall serious crime.

When implemented in schools, zero tolerance granted NYPD-supervised school safety agents authority to immediately intervene during a violent incident, which sometimes resulted in student arrests.

According to NYPD, these zero tolerance policies were working, citing a 34 percent decrease in crime citywide since implemented.

Well, recent data released by the State Education Department shows that while citywide violence may have receded, violence within schools has hit an all-time high, according to the New York Post.

The report shows that fights, crimes and other incidents have jumped more than 50 percent since 2005, to 68,313 major and minor incidents in the 2010/2011 academic school year.

Some of the data collected showed assaults with a weapon and assaults with serious injury more than doubled since 2009. Drug possession jumped by more than 50 percent since 2008; while alcohol possession more than doubled since 2006. Additionally, cases of intimidation and bullying had nearly doubled since 2005.

This new information hardly matches up with the NYPD's claim that their zero tolerance approach to fighting crime is working.

Additionally, it is a policy that already has been challenged by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which argues, zero tolerance feeds a pipeline that unfairly saddles students with a criminal record they otherwise would not have.

In fact, in an NYCLU report released in March 2007, entitled "Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-policing of New York City Schools," it states that schools rely on suspension, expulsion, citations, summonses, and arrests to handle disciplinary problems like bringing cell phones and iPods to school, smoking cigarettes and skipping class.

So is the current zero tolerance approach to curbing violence in the classroom truly effective? The State Department of Education and the NYCLU would probably agree: “No.”

However, where they would disagree is in the approach: For the NYCLU’s part, the current policies appear misguided and overly punitive. For the State’s part, they likely appear not stringent enough.

What do you think are workable solutions for curbing violence in schools? Tell us in the comments.

Joe August 30, 2012 at 02:12 PM
While I wouldn't want to see a further "police stateification" of the school system, it's likely that the troubling "doubling" of crime statistics at schools is more a result of increased reporting of incidents since the police intervention than an actual massive increase of incidents themselves.

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