Apr. 20, 2000 Writer: Kristin Harmel
Source: Robert Weiler, firstname.lastname@example.org, (352) 392-0583
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- A year after the massacre at Columbine High School, a University of Florida study finds most Florida public school districts have policies against violence but few actually teach kids how to prevent it.
"These numbers are all very similar to national levels," said Steve Dorman, an associate professor of health science education at UF. "You would think that, given the recent national attention to violence in the schools, there would be more of an effort to educate kids. We'd certainly like to see more violence prevention education."
In a study of all 67 Florida school districts aimed at gauging the availability of violence prevention education and policies, Dorman and Robert Weiler, also an associate professor of health science education, discovered 91 percent had written policies on student fighting, while 98 percent had policies on weapon use and prevention. Ninety-one percent offered violence prevention education training for teachers.
"As far as policy, most school districts were doing well," Dorman said.
But the researchers found one very serious shortcoming in the education system's battle against violence: Less than 11 percent of school districts required violence prevention education for students.
Many school districts handle the problem of school violence by hiring security officers, installing metal detectors and imposing stiff penalties on students who violate rules, said Peter Blauvelt, the president of the National Alliance for Safe Schools and the author of "Making Schools Safe for Students."
"Schools have all of these policies and procedures in place that are punitive in nature, but there aren't many policies in place that improve how kids treat each other," he said. "My opinion is that violence prevention education needs to be included throughout the curriculum."
Students need to be taught about coping with problems and about anger management, among other issues, Dorman said.
"Kids watch 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on TV before finishing elementary school," he said. "Violence doesn't exist in a vacuum, and this type of exposure is going to have an effect."
Violence prevention education should start as early as kindergarten and become a part of the school health education framework, Dorman said. That way, students would be taught from an early age how to deal with negative emotions, even if they aren't learning those lessons at home.
But offering violence-prevention education classes might not be enough, Weiler said.
"I don't think in and of itself, violence prevention education is going to change such a complex public health program," he said. "For schools with a real violence problem, a concentrated intervention might be necessary. In terms of general education, violence prevention education should be offered as part of a comprehensive school health education program."
Parents who want violence prevention education programs in their school districts should bring the issue to their local school advisory council, PTA or school board, Dorman said. Blauvelt also recommends contacting the national PTA in order to put the issue on the national agenda.
"The public school is a place where we send children to teach them how to live in society," Dorman said. "As we're teaching them how to learn and write, we're also teaching them to live with their neighbors."
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