It's one of the most indelible images of the year: high-schoolers fleeing two student gunmen at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Similar if less-deadly attacks occurred in other schools last year. But Littleton's severity was galvanizing, quickly shattering for many parents a cherished perception of school as a safe and promising place.
That day in April shifted debate on everything from parental discipline to gun control. It helped set new records for parents looking into homeschooling. It's made it tempting to think of schools as the new lawless frontier.
But before towns leap to require see-through backpacks and impose onerous restrictions, they should consider what the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics has to say.
The forum's report, released earlier this month, paints a portrait of schools that challenges some of the assumptions of recent months. It found that the number of serious violent crimes committed per 1,000 children ages 12 to 17 is at its lowest rate since 1986. In 1997, there were 31 such crimes for every 1,000 kids, compared with 52 per 1,000 in 1993.
Near-record numbers of kids will attend schools this fall. New facilities are going up as fast as contractors can lay bricks. There's no question that inspired thinking on safety is needed, that school designs must consider security, that something must be done to stem the tide of kids who bring weapons to school. But it's equally important to note progress in the daily, step-by-step effort to ensure that schools remain places of hope and openness.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society