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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 19, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING


The Briefing Room

2:37 P.M. EST

MR. TOIV: Good afternoon. Here to brief on the President's announcement today are Bill Modzeleski, who is the Director of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program at the Department of Education; Pat Forgione, who is the National Commissioner for Education Statistics, and he also is at the Education Department; and Nicholas Gess, who is the director for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Justice Department.


MR. FORGIONE: Good afternoon. I'm Pat Forgione. And I wanted to share with you our new report, Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools. And this can be accessed through our web site,

I thought it would be important to give you clarity and perspective to these first-time-ever national school-level estimates of the incidence of the various types of crime in public schools. I will focus on two questions: How safe are our schools, and what do these school-level estimates tell us about the safety of students in those schools.

You know that there is a set of national goals, and the 7th goal that the President has set for America states that by the year 2000 all schools in America will be free of drugs and violence. This report was my agency's response to a congressional law that asked us to collect data on the frequency, seriousness, and incidence of violence in elementary and secondary schools.

So how safe are the schools? What can we tell you about the seriousness of crime in the schools? This study very clearly says that 100 percent of the serious violent crimes are in 10 percent of our schools. Some 90 percent of the 1,234 public schools surveyed had no incidents of serious violent crime in school year 1996-97.

Basically, as you can see in one of the poster boards, the sheets attached to the press release, 43 percent of our public schools had no incidents of crime serious or less than serious and nonviolent.

Let's go to the second question. What do we know about these school-level statistics? What do they tell us about the relative safety of our students? We developed a reporting unit to give you a handle on this, because, remember, America has 45 million students, and so you have to put these numbers in a broader context.

And as you can see on the Attachment II to the press release, there were 424,000 incidents of all types of safety and crime problems in our schools, or about 10 incidents per 1,000 students. Remember, an average high school is about 1,000, so you would expect about 10 of these incidents reported to the police on average. Now, 95 percent of those, 9.5 of the incidents were in the less serious or nonviolent categories. Only .5 incidents per 1,000 were of the violent type.

The most frequent category was physical attacks without a weapon, some 19,000 incidents, or 4.4 of those in a high school of 1,000. And, remember, there is about 10 months, so that would be --almost every other month you would have a reporting.

It's not easy to place these results in context, but if we go to the sexual assaults, where there were 4,000 of those, or about 0.1 incidents per 1,000, this is like one in 10,000 in the school year. We have another data set that Jan Chaiken and his colleagues at the Bureau of Justice Statistics has produced with our cooperation. Students age 12 to 14, from their database, in their neighborhoods, averaged 35 out of 10,000 of these types of crimes versus one out of 10,000 in our schools.

If you take the kids a little older who are 15 to 17, those data sets point out 60 out of 10,000. So the schools, in fact, are relatively safer environments than our neighborhoods.

And I now would welcome and open it for questions.

Q The numbers you give here for actual incidents -- for example, you gave the example of the 4,000 rapes -- I gather that that's an extrapolation from the samples other than in actual reported cases. Is that right?

MR. FORGIONE: Absolutely, we have 1,234 schools, they're weighted, and it's a national probability sample. And from that, we estimate what the overall occurrence would be.

Q So they're not actual reported cases, they're estimated --

MR. FORGIONE: No, they're drawn from the sample surveys, exactly.

Q Another question also, is it the case that in every category here there are only the cases that were reported to police?

MR. FORGIONE: Right. In other words, one of the rules in this was we wanted actual crime incidents that were reported.

Q Well, for example, less serious things like a fight that didn't involve a weapon. I would think that that would underestimate how many fights were going on in schools if you're only talking about those that are reported to police. I don't know for sure, but I would --

MR. FORGIONE: I think you're right in that. But we were trying to get a sense of disruption to the institution and the school climate when you have to report to the police and it brings in that set of interaction. That meant it's very serious to us. So we were trying to avoid the trivial. And when you get to elementary especially, you can have a lot of interactions that have a range.

So we were trying to use a strict standard: on campus, reported. Now, that meant the school bus coming to school, or an event that could take place, like a football game. So we tried to create the school in a larger context. But it was a very strict definition so that we could have a serious -- and we want to replicate this over time so you need to have a tight framework, because perceptions often do adjust the data at the school level.

Q So this would underestimate the actual incidence of -- am I right, this would underestimate then the actual number of cases?

MR. FORGIONE: It may underestimate the cases if one wanted to talk about all incidents, right.

Q What are the policy implications of having a widespread perception that public schools are unsafe, that these numbers show that most are safe, but then again there is a core of dangerous schools?

MR. FORGIONE: Well, we think the data are important to guide the policymaking and I'd ask my two colleagues who represent the policy bodies to comment.


MR. MODZELESKI: Thank you, Pat. One of the issues is that the data clearly shows that there are a limited number of schools that have violent, serious crime. From a policy perspective, one of the things we want to take a look at is better targeting of dollars that the administration has for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and other programs to those 10 percent of schools or other schools that are experiencing serious violent crime.

MR. GESS: We should never underestimate this problem. I mean, the fact is 10 percent of the schools in this country have a serious violent felony in the reporting period. What this does is it helps us. As Bill as pointed out, on the Education side, it helps Education focus its resources on those schools which are really in trouble.

From the Justice Department enforcement side, the real value here is that we can use these sorts of numbers to figure out where the problems are, where are the places that need more community police officers, that need more criminal justice dollars. And using that in a target-efficient manner, we're able actually to combat crime in a relatively efficient manner.

Q Where is the $17.5 million coming from? Was that budgeted for this fiscal year, and which budget and what program?

MR. GESS: It's part of the COPS program, which is a Justice Department discretionary grant.

Q What does COPS stand for?

MR. GESS: COPS is Community Oriented Policing Services. It was part of the President's 1994 Crime Bill; it's the vehicle for putting 100,000 police officers on the streets. This year there is a specialized appropriation, which will be part of a $1.4 billion total for just community policing. It's a relatively huge amount.

Q That's current fiscal year budget, right?

MR. GESS: This is in the 1998 current fiscal year.

Q Why the announcement today then?

MR. GESS: We actually think we're moving relatively quickly. With new grant programs it takes time to actually pull them together. It's not just a question of the language.

Q In other words, now you're about to shift it out to the states.

MR. GESS: Now we're about to shift it out. We're going to get application kits out by May 15th, and I think with a June 15th deadline, and move the money fairly quickly.

Q These are block grants to the states?

MR. GESS: No, these are not block grants. These are discretionary grants by the administration where we feel very strongly that we need to use this money in a discretionary fashion, in fact, for exactly this problem. You need to identify the problem and put the money where the problem is.

Q Where in this plan is the issue of verbal harassment by one child to another addressed specifically in the area of funding, if it's an area to be dealt with; if not in funding, what other avenue is targeted for it?

MR. MODZELESKI: Well, there are a couple of issues going on here. One is verbal harassment would be covered under a hate crimes initiative that the Department of Education and Department of Justice have initiated and it would be covered under there. There are other reports -- this is the first of five reports that the Department of Education, jointly with the Department of Justice at least in a couple of the reports will be issued. And some of those reports will go further into detail on a lot of the other issues related to the specifics on some of these.

Q Just one quick follow-up on it. I know of situations where when kids verbally harass other children in middle schools, for instance, that their way of dealing with it separate from the government is to do mediation. When mediation doesn't work and the kids continue to harass each other, then you escalate up to the next level basically. Does this involve that as far as funding, or does that sort of separate the category?

MR. MODZELESKI: Well, right now, 97 percent of the school districts in this country receive Safe and Drug-Free Schools dollars from the Department of Education. Those dollars can be used for programs to reduce disorder, improve discipline, make schools safer and drug free, and improve the overall learning environment.

So under the provisions of that particular piece of legislation, schools can use those dollars for harassment programs if they feel that they're a problem.

Q Are they in place now, or will they eventually trickle down to the schools?

MR. MODZELESKI: They are in place in some schools now. We have done work with schools on methods. We're currently working with Harvard University on a violence prevention initiative which talks about harassment on this end -- I mean, violence on one end of the scale, from harassing, name calling, bullying, all the way up to the other end of the scale. So programs are being put in place, and there is training and technical assistance which is being provided currently from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to schools.

Q Will there be any money provided to schools for the data gathering on all these reports that are coming?

MR. MODZELESKI: As you know, Jessica, or may not know, is that last year the Department of Education provided $2 million under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program for data collection. These are discretionary dollars that were provided to the Secretary. We will again this year provide approximately $2 million to state education agencies and large local education agencies, again to improve their overall data collection and analysis systems.

This is a good example of the Department of Justice and the National Centers for Educational Statistics and the Department of Education wanting to work together to strengthen data collection systems. I think that we could honestly say that both agencies are firmly committed to improve the data that we collect from schools at the state level as well as at the local level.

END 2:47 P.M. EST