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What with intrusive random searches zero tolerance drug-sniffing dogs surveillance cameras metal detectors mandatory uniforms and on-site armed police officers the schoolhouse these days is looking more and more like the jailhouse All of this follows of course in the wake of the shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton Colo last spring It was tragic enough that in this incident and several other school shootings in the past two years 26 students were deprived of their lives It compounds the tragedy though when these incidents are used to justify depriving millions of students of their rights In the post-Littleton backlash schools have gone crazy expelling or suspending children for such dangerous behavior as dyeing their hair blue having body piercings or tattoos wearing the Star of David on a necklace supposedly it is some sort of gang symbol or wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of that other notorious gang the Vegans Worse yet some students have been punished merely for daring to criticize their schools for punishing classmates who have worn such threatening items Of course school safety should be a top priority But safety and civil liberties are not mutually exclusive And just as adults are entitled to both safety and liberty the same is true of our nations youth The medias sensationalized coverage of school violence has helped whip up exaggerated fears which in turn spur officials to overreact treating all students like potential perpetrators or victims of mass murder Newsworthy as the Columbine and other school shootings are they are not symptomatic of a nationwide trend To the contrary the many recent studies of school violence consistently document declines Consider for example a recent report by the Justice Policy Institute whose title tells it all School House Hype School Shootings and the Real Risks Kids Face in America1 This report shows that between 1992 and 1995 there were an average of 42 violent deaths per year in schools
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