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School violence

Panel probing school shootings finds no easy solutions

Janet Reno
May 21, 1998
Web posted at: 11:06 p.m. EDT (0306 GMT)

From Justice Department Correspondent Pierre Thomas

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After a schoolyard shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas, shocked the nation in March, Attorney General Janet Reno convened a panel of experts, at the behest of President Clinton, to look at ways to prevent similar tragedies.

The panel, with officials from education and law enforcement, has met twice, including once with Clinton. Participant Dennis Kenney, director of research for the Police Executive Research Forum, said panelists discussed a variety of solutions -- "after-school programs, mental health counseling, student problem solving."

But what they all quickly realized was the sobering truth that there are no quick solutions -- no cookie-cutter federal program likely to solve what appear to be localized incidents.

And as the string of school shootings has continued beyond Jonesboro, one question the panel is wrestling with is whether troubled kids may be mimicking earlier shooting rampages.

"One thing that came up in the session ... is whether or not there is some type of copycat phenomenon," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said. "We don't know the answer to that. We don't know enough about this incident today [in Oregon] to know what is suggested by way of motive."

While most U.S. schools are safe, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education revealed some troubling signs.

Ten percent of the nation's schools reported one or more violent crimes in the 1996-1997 school year, including murder, suicide, rape, robbery and fights involving weapons.

Some experts believe that what's been happening in schools is simply a spillover of the larger societal problem of juvenile violence.

"We've surveyed teachers and students in schools all over the country -- in small schools, big schools and rural schools -- and we get significant levels of teacher concerns and student fears," said John Firman, director of research for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Juvenile crime began climbing in 1987 and has fallen only in the last two years. Still, some experts say the numbers remain intolerably high.

In 1996, nearly 93,000 juveniles were charged in violent crimes -- a number 60 percent higher than a decade ago. In 1996 alone, more than 2,000 juveniles were charged with murder.

School violence special

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