Bill Aims to Reduce Bullying and School Violence

Lawmakers are to introduce a bill aimed at reducing bullying and violence in schools. Even after the Columbine and Red Lake school shootings, the sense of urgency about addressing the issue seems to have faded. Now, one group in particular is intent on putting school violence back on the front burner.

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Lawmakers in Congress today introduce a bill aimed at reducing bullying and violence in schools. After the Columbine tragedy, schools woke up to the importance of dealing with aggression that could lead to violence. Educators realized that problems were often much worse and harder to detect than anyone knew. Still, even after the shootings in March in Red Lake, Minnesota, the sense of urgency seems to have faded. Now one group in particular is intent on putting school violence issues back on the front burner. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:

Kathleen Madigan, president of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, remembers just about every school shooting carried live on TV. The mayhem, the disbelief on people's faces and how she felt every time it happened.

Ms. KATHLEEN MADIGAN (President, American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence): It was that same feeling, that feeling of helplessness, a feeling of what can we do to provide safe environments for students? And I felt, you know, what an incredible tragedy. Another tragedy.

SANCHEZ: The worst was that eight-month period from October 1997 to May 1998 when five school shootings stunned the nation, 15 students and teachers shot dead, 47 injured, in Pearl, West Paducah, Jonesboro, Edinboro, Springfield, places most Americans had never heard of, followed less than a year later by Columbine, April 20th, 1999. What's remarkable, says Madigan, is that in the years since, the extraordinary body of research that's been collected about these and other school shootings is of little use to the people in the trenches, classroom teachers, and Madigan wants to change that.

Ms. MADIGAN: Welcome, and thanks, everyone, for being here. And we are excited to have all of you here to help us think about the issue of how to prevent school violence.

SANCHEZ: Madigan recently brought together some of the nation's leading experts on school violence, educators and psychologists, who've agreed to compile research that won't just give teachers information but restore their proper role in making schools safer. Again, Kathleen Madigan.

Ms. MADIGAN: The notion that we have to criminalize, you know, every statement or that we need to call the police for every activity in a school is a faulty notion.

SANCHEZ: School boards, says Madigan, should be looking beyond security guards, metal detectors, surveillance cameras and profiling techniques to researchers like Stephen Rollin of the American Psychological Association, who studied the telltale signs of mental and physical anguish that push kids to the brink

Mr. STEPHEN ROLLIN (American Psychological Association): We know, for instance, that there is increases in truancy. We know, for example, there's also increases in psychological-based problems like ulcers and migraine headaches in young children, third-, fourth-graders. And I'm concerned about the fact that we really haven't taken a hard look at what goes on in the hearts and minds of these children.

SANCHEZ: And the federal government should be making sure this kind of research gets to teachers and principals, says Rollin. Some members of Congress, meanwhile, are just as concerned about problems like bullying, which is not specifically addressed in the legislation that Congress has passed mandating safer schools. Bill Modzeleski, who oversees the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program at the US Department of Education, says violence prevention policies in schools may not be perfect, but they're certainly not skewed in favor of law enforcement.

Mr. BILL MODZELESKI (Safe and Drug-Free Schools, US Department of Education): And I think that we have encouraged schools to engage in prevention programs and early intervention programs as much as law enforcement. This is not a case of one or the other. This is in many cases a case of both.

SANCHEZ: Modzeleski says he's looked at a whole range of violence prevention programs that the federal government funds at a cost of $440 million a year and found a bigger problem.

Mr. MODZELESKI: There wasn't a lot of evidence that all these dollars were being used on research-based programs.

SANCHEZ: Some schools, says Modzeleski, simply don't bother to look at what works. That's why the Bush administration wants to reduce the funding to states and start over again, which could actually work in favor of those researchers who are seeking more mental health services for kids, more counseling and more teacher training. Again, Kathleen Madigan.

Ms. MADIGAN: I don't know if it's the teacher's job to get to that kid who's seething inside. It's the teacher's job to be able to say, `This individual is troubled.'

SANCHEZ: Only then, says Madigan, can schools hope to deliver the full range of services and safety measures they so desperately need. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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