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School Violence Still a Worry for American Parents

School Violence Still a Worry for American Parents

by Mark Gillespie


PRINCETON, NJ -- Students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado -- the site of the worst school shooting spree in U.S. history last April -- are slowly returning to normal. The school reopened August 16 for the first time since 13 people were killed in a rampage by two students who later took their own lives.

The shootings generated fear among parents nationwide and, as many schools reopen their doors for a new school year this week, a new Gallup poll on education issues finds nearly half of all parents (47%) fearing for their children's safety at school. The percentages have fallen slightly since the end of the school year last May, when a Gallup poll found 52% of parents feared for their children's safety at school. Rural parents are more likely to be afraid (54%) than are parents in urban or suburban school districts (46% and 44%, respectively), and parents in the South are more likely to be afraid (56%) than are those in any other region.

Students Generally Do Not Share Same Fears
While nearly half of all parents fear for their children at school, the Gallup poll found students generally do not share the same fear. Just 18% of parents reported their children have expressed concerns about safety at their schools. Again, the percentages are higher among rural families, where 22% of parents say their children have expressed fears. Families living in the East also have higher levels of concern -- 24% of parents in the East say their children have expressed worries about feeling unsafe at school.

Violence Not Seen as Most Serious Problem at U.S. Schools
While violence is the "hot-button" issue driving most conversations about problems in the schools, it is not the most significant problem in parents' eyes. When parents were given a list of potential problems facing schools and were asked to rank them, just 28% cited violence as a serious problem. This compares with 43% who cited drugs, 40% who cited sex, and 39% who cited discipline in the classroom as serious problems.

However, the most serious problem by far has little to do with violence, vices, or discipline. Nearly two out of three parents (64%) cited the social pressure to be popular as a serious problem. Social pressure has been cited as one of the factors that may have sparked the Columbine tragedy, and is a problem on which security guards and metal detectors will have little impact.

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 338 adults, 18 years and older, conducted August 24-26, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 6 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Thinking about your oldest child, when he or she is at school, do you fear for his or her physical safety?
BASED ON -- 338 -- K-12 PARENTS; ± 6 PCT PTS

  Yes, fear No, do not No opinion
1999 Aug 24-26 47 53 *
1999 May 21-23 52 47 1
1999 Apr 26-27 49 51 *
1999 Apr 21 55 45 0
1998 Jun 5-7 37 62 1
1977^ 24 70 6

^ Gallup for Kettering Foundation

Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go back to school this fall?
BASED ON -- 338 -- K-12 PARENTS; ± 6 PCT PTS

Yes 18%
No 82
No opinion *

How serious a problem are each of the following at the school your oldest child attends -- very serious, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not serious at all? First, ... . How about ... ? [RANDOM ORDER]
BASED ON -- 338 -- K-12 PARENTS; ± 6 PCT PTS

  Very serious Somewhat serious Not too serious Not serious at all No opinion
A. Violence 13% 15% 38% 33% 1%
B. Gangs 11 16 26 45 2
C. Drugs 17 26 28 27 2
D. Sex 14 26 30 28 2
E. Discipline in the classroom 17 22 34 26 1
F. Social pressure among students to be popular 25 39 21 14 1

* less than 0.5%

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