When a trio of Utahns - a principal, a social worker and a police officer - returned from a front-line tour of the battle for control of America's schools, they couldn't help but feel relief at the overall peacefulness of Utah schools.
Still, the schools they visited in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as part of a national conference on violence in the schools gave them a haunting premonition of what could happen if the minor irritation of violence in Utah schools is left to fester.Their objective was to learn the lessons available from schools where violence, gangs and drugs are already enrolled in the classroom. In their travels, they gathered information that will be used in compiling an intervention plan aimed at preventing problems here.
"If we can put together an effective intervention plan, we'll never look like the East Coast," Glendale Intermediate Principal Rickie McCandless said.
The pictures that McCandless, police officer Mark Askerlund and social worker Mary Ellen Reading paint of the urban Eastern schools are worrisome.
Graffiti covers the walls. The Philadelphia superintendent of schools travels with an armed guard. Doors are padlocked shut, in violation of fire code, during school hours. Cafeterias are closed because of past shootouts over drug deals gone sour.
"They're so overcome by the problem now that they can no longer put into effect an intervention plan. They are fighting this (violence) on a day-to-day basis," said Askerlund, a detective assigned to Salt Lake intermediate schools.
The Salt Lakers found the East Coast police officers and educators hospitable. They willingly pointed out their problems, talking of juvenile drug dealers, usually tied to gangs, who sell their dangerous wares from the trunks of expensive cars with cellular phones.
"Their (gang) problem is a drug problem that has gotten out of hand. The gangs have recognized that instead of stealing hubcaps or steros from cars, they should be selling drugs because they are more lucrative," Askerlund said.
Such information about drugs and gangs will be considered this summer when the trio writes the intervention plan.
A violent nation
- Three million students, faculty, staff or visitors were victims of criminal acts while on school property in 1987; 75,900 aggravated assaults occurred, 50,980 involving injury; 36,850 robberies occurred 22,610 involving injuries; 2.5 million thefts were reported in or around schools. A much greater number went unreported. (National Crime Survey, 1987)
- The estimated cost of school vandalism is $600 million a year - more than is spent on textbooks. (National PTA report)
- In California, gun possession by students rose 28 percent in one year. Statewide 642 guns were found on campus, compared with 503 the year before. (1986-87California report on school crime)
- Among 11,000 eighth-and 10th-graders from 20 states, half the boys and 28 percent of the girls reported being in at least one fight in the previous year; 14 percent were robbed and 13 percent attacked while at school; four of 10 boys and one in four girls said they could obtain a handgun if desired; 23 percent of boys carried a knife to school at least once during the year, 7 percent on a daily basis; 3 percent of the males carried a handgun to school at least once, 1 percent daily. (1987 National Adolescent Student Health Survey)
- On average in 1986, a child was shot every day in Detroit, Mich. (Detroit Free Press)