Chicago Public School students have lost 28 of their classmates so far this academic year, a number that eclipses the number of students killed all of last school year, the Chicago Tribune reports—and the students have three more months to go until summer break.
Responding to public outcry over the high-profile murders of Chicago teens in spring 2008, school and law enforcement officials pledged to provide greater police presence at school bus stops, crack down on curfew violators, and promote a texting-tip program for youth. But police also acknowledge that most of the violence against students stems from gang membership, gun proliferation, and the drug trade—factors over which the public school system has little control.
Police have ticketed about 600 more curfew violators in 2008 than they did in 2007, and there have been half as many students wounded by gunfire so far this year compared with last year, but these successes have not slowed the number of students being killed. Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis says the city needs to adopt a more holistic approach to curbing youth violence, one that involves more than just schools and law enforcement.
"The real fix is going to be changing the culture, the mind-set, the emotional maturity, the social fabric that a lot of these young men are operating in," he says. "That fabric is torn. We've got to weave it back together and make it strong."
Experts agree that an array of societal problems contribute to violence against youth, but they also stress that kids who are actively engaged in school are more likely to stay safe. Chicago Public School Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman, a former police officer who took over for Arne Duncan earlier this year after Duncan became secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, agrees with Wise and says keeping students safe is a problem that families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, and police must rise to face together.
But Chicago is not the only city struggling with student safety. In Nashville, the number of guns seized on school property so far this academic year is twice the number taken all of last year, the Tennessean reports. School officials have confiscated 10 guns from students, their family members, and trespassers since the school year began last August.