WHILE the statistical measure of violent crime in the United States indicates a slight decrease between 1992 and 1993, violence is soaring in a critical American institution: public schools.
To combat the violence and drug activity in many urban and suburban schools, what greets students more and more these days are metal detectors, locker searches, closed-circuit television cameras, and dogs in the hallways sniffing lockers and backpacks for drugs and weapons.
* In a new study of 729 school districts by the National School Boards Association (NSBA), 82 percent of the districts reported significant increases in violence during the last five years. The report called violence in schools an ``epidemic'' with 39 percent of the schools reporting a shooting or knifing last year and 23 percent reporting a drive-by shooting.
* A recent poll done by Louis Harris and Associates found that 1 in 4 students, and 1 in 10 teachers, said they had been victims of violence on or near school property. The survey of 1,000 public-school teachers and 1,800 students also disclosed that 13 percent of the students said they had carried a weapon to school at some time. At the same time, the poll found that extreme school violence was not universal and that it ``tended to be localized in particular schools.''
* The Department of Justice estimates that 100,000 children take guns to school every day, and 160,000 students stay home each day to avoid confrontations.
* A series of studies done in 1992 by the American Medical Association disclosed that 6 percent of high school students own handguns, and one-third of those have fired the gun at someone. In New York City, between 1987 and 1990, arrests on gun charges for children between the ages of 7 and 15 increased by 75 percent.
``Schools alone cannot successfully stem the rising tide of school violence,'' says Thomas Shannon, director of the NSBA. ``Intensive efforts by the entire community will be required to reduce the epidemic.''
ccording to the NSBA report, suspension from school is the most frequent method schools use to deal with violence.
Seventy-seven percent of the respondents in the report blamed ``changing family situations'' as the main cause of school violence. Faced with parents divorcing or parents who often fight, children often react with violence if they don't realize there are alternatives, experts say.
The report also blamed violence in the media ``as a way that young people come to accept violence as a natural part of life.'' Students at a recent antiviolence forum in Greenville, N.C., told Gov. Jim Hunt that violent TV shows, movies, and music lyrics ``often promote violence'' among teenagers.
``In an era when some children spend as many hours with [the television characters] Beavis and Butt-head as they do with Mom and Dad, efforts to limit the amount of violence on television seem especially appropriate,'' says the NSBA report.
In order to help schools fight violence, philanthropist Walter Annenberg recently donated $500 million to several education institutions to develop antiviolence programs for children.
Concerned that so many young people with weapons were challenging teachers and school officials, Mr. Annenberg said, ``I felt I had to drop a bomb.''
His donation is the largest American education grant ever given to institutions.
Many schools have taken the initiative to introduce antiviolence programs at the youngest ages.
* Schools in New York, California, New Jersey, and Florida already instruct kindergarten youngsters about the dangers of guns.
* At Duvall High School in Greenbelt, Md., a student mediation program has reduced fights and suspensions by 50 percent.
* A violence prevention program in 100 New York City schools that was launched in 1992 is credited with reducing classroom fights by 71 percent.
Governor Hunt told high school students at the forum: ``Violence in schools is serious business. You in your school or the people in your community are going to have to be the main part of making changes. Laws can't change things by themselves.''