By Greg Toppo
WASHINGTON — Students are feeling safer at school but still feel threatened by weapons, a new government report says.
The annual Indicators of School Crime and Safety, released Wednesday, showed that most types of school crime dropped slightly between 1995 and 1999, with the proportion of students saying they were victims of crimes dropping to one in 12.
But the report, issued by the Education and Justice departments, showed that the percentage of students who say they were threatened with a weapon at school stayed about the same.
The report said the percentage of students 12 and older who said they were victims of thefts, assaults or threats at school dropped from 10 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 1999. The largest drop came for students in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Figures for 11th-graders were unchanged, at 7 percent.
The percentage of students who reported street gangs in their school fell by nearly half, from 29 percent in 1995 to 17 percent in 1999. Also, fewer students said they feared being attacked or hurt at school, and fewer said they avoided places on campus because they considered them unsafe.
But the percentage of high school students who said they had been threatened or injured with a weapon in 1999 — 8 percent — was the same as in 1995. The percentage of high school students who said they had carried a weapon at school in the past 30 days dropped from 10 percent in 1995 to 7 percent in 1999.
Thirty percent of students said drugs were available on campus — 2 percent fewer than in 1995.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said he was encouraged by the figures but said more needs to be done.
Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also welcomed the report. "It’s heartening in these difficult times to know that school continues to be a safe place for kids," she said. "The improvement in school safety reflects the hard work of teachers and other school employees."
Ken Trump, a Cleveland school safety consultant, agreed that school officials have been doing a better job in recent years of balancing prevention programs and crime intervention. But he said the dropping crime statistics may not be entirely accurate, a notion supported recently by a school police officers’ group.
An Oct. 5 survey by the National Association of School Resource Officers found that 84 percent of officers said crime on campus is underreported to police.
Curt Lavarello, the group’s executive director, said principals are often pressured to minimize crime statistics at their schools. As a result, he said, they often refer to assaults simply as fights or thefts as missing property — even when $150,000 worth of equipment disappears.
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