As the Public Education Network (PEN) and its member local education funds (LEFs) are committed to creating systems of public education that result in high achievement for every child, we believe that equal opportunity, access to quality public schools, and an informed citizenry are all critical components of a democratic society. Part of making available a high-quality public education is ensuring that students and teachers spend their days in safe schools, which are free from violence, free from fear of harassment and threatening situations, and conducive to teaching and learning.
Five local education funds have helped their communities broach these difficult issues with conversations on national and local issues of safety and violence in schools. During the last part of 2000, more than 250 people participated in conversations in Buffalo, NY; Lancaster, PA; McKeesport, PA; and Paterson, NJ. In February 2001, the local education fund in Atlanta, GA hosted a conversation that included students, teachers, principals, law enforcement officials, parents, and other community leaders.
These local education funds conducted their community dialogues on school safety and violence as part of an assessment of their community's readiness and capacity to address the health and well being of children in their public schools. This assessment included looking into issues of health insurance coverage, coordination of health and social services for children and their families, maintaining safe learning environments, and the level of resources devoted to children's health and social services. Participants, therefore, understood that these community dialogues are not just "one-shot" efforts at addressing school safety and violence but as a part of a more comprehensive approach to address the systemic issues affecting children in their public schools.
The local education funds used The 1999 Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher, Violence in America's Public Schools: Five Years Later, as a starting place for their conversations, to ground their local experiences in a national context. This Lessons from the Field provides a summary of the MetLife survey and highlights findings from the conversations in four local education fund communities. (Law enforcement officials are referred to in this publication as "officers." All teachers and students referred to here are from public schools, and all "schools" referred to are public schools.)