Safety Dance

Senseless shootings usher in new security measures for schools

Laura Ryan, a teacher at Seward Park High School in the Lower East Side, shares the same concerns. "Police are seen as enforcers and it's a dangerous precedent to treat the kids as potential criminals," says Ryan. "Besides, school should help to socialize students and prepare them for the world."

Ryan, an English teacher at the six-story fortress at the corner of Grand and Ludlow streets for the past 13 years adds, "I find it completely demoralizing to have police officers walking around in the halls. That's not the right environment for learning."

Furthermore, many principals in New York have imposed a "captive lunch" policy— students are barred from leaving the building at mealtime. No longer will students be able to run to the corner deli during free periods. "There was a time when the door monitors would yell, 'Lock down!' after the first bell," says Ryan. "The language used is frightening."

"It's like going to a prison every day," says Ali Moulhem, a senior at Seward Park. "I live alone and take care of myself. I don't need someone telling me that I can't step outside during lunch to have a cigarette."

Another senior at the school, Jennifer Garcia, says, "It won't make a difference one way or another. They're putting in cops to put more pressure on those who make trouble, but they'll keep doing what they want."

Ironically, the day after the vote, the Board of Ed released figures that reported serious crime and safety incidents dropped in city schools last year. Though the total number of incidents in the 1,100 schools climbed 30 percent to 28,534 in the 1997-98 school year, from 21,993 the previous year; assaults, robberies, and other serious offenses declined. According to school officials, the sharp increase is the result of better reporting. The majority of incidents (61 percent) were classified as minor misconduct— trespassing, loitering, and student fights.

Moreover, researchers claim that the number of students injured by weapons in school has gone down over the past decade. According to a report released by the Justice Policy Institute, there were 42 school-related violent deaths annually from 1992 through 1995 and 33 per year from 1995 through 1998.

More startling is the number of children killed by gunfire every year: 3024. And the peak hours for those shootings are not between homeroom and eighth period, but during late afternoons, weekends, summer months, and over the winter holiday season. The institute's report says that policymakers in Washington and in state legislatures have overreacted to a crisis that does not exist and are engaged in a "tragic misdirection of attention and resources."


One of six articles in our Education Supplement.

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