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Study Shows Violence Drops Among High School Students

By Terence Monmaney
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Amid turbulent national debate over school shootings, government researchers are reporting a largely unheralded decline in high school violence in the 1990s, with many fewer students saying they carried a weapon or engaged in fights than at the beginning of the decade.

In four biennial surveys of more than 45,000 high school students nationwide, the number of youths who said they carried a weapon to school fell by 28 percent from 1993 to 1997, the researchers found. Students who said they got in a schoolyard fight fell by 9 percent over the same period. And the proportion who carried a gun on or off campus dropped 25 percent.

Reconciling those positive trends with the more recent mass killings on school campuses is difficult, the researchers and other analysts say. But the study, to be made public Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that various efforts to reduce schoolyard dangers have been effective despite the rare outbreak of inexplicable mayhem.

“This is real progress,” said study co-author Thomas Simon, a behavioral scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a separate study in the same journal, which this week was devoted to violence research, North Carolina researchers reported that child abuse-related deaths are far more common than official statistics indicate. They attributed the discrepancy to errors in interpreting death certificate data.

Regarding the CDC school violence study, Simon said it is unclear how students’ behaviors might be affected in the long run by recent tragedies such as the shooting of 12 students and a teacher in Littleton, Colo., last April. But because the study draws on such a large number of students, it “is more representative of what is really happening with kids today,” he said.

At the same time, the study conveys an image of high school life in America today that is far from serene, recent improvements notwithstanding. In 1997, around 15 percent of youths surveyed said they got in a fight on campus, and 8.5 percent said they had carried a weapon to class in the previous 30 days.

Also, progress was not uniform in all groups surveyed. Defying some of the trends were Latino students, who were somewhat more likely to report being threatened with a weapon or getting in a fight on school property in 1997 compared to 1993, the researchers found. Researchers speculated that past violence prevention programs may not have sufficiently reflected Latino culture.