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Published: Friday, 3/2/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Private schools spared tragedy of shootings

Experts note their special nature; they also have fewer students

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bouquets of flowers sit on the sign in front of the high school in ChardonTuesday. A gunman opened fire inside the school's cafeteria at the start of the school day Monday, killing three students and injuring two more. Bouquets of flowers sit on the sign in front of the high school in ChardonTuesday. A gunman opened fire inside the school's cafeteria at the start of the school day Monday, killing three students and injuring two more.
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In the past 45 years, of the dozens of school shootings across the country, almost all of them have taken place at a public institution.

People who study school shootings seem to agree that there isn't a large enough sample of cases -- thankfully, they add -- to say with certainty that most of the incidents happen at public schools and, if true, why.

"I'm skeptical if that's a valid enough conclusion," said Eric Dubow, a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University. "Thank God there are not that many school shootings. It's not a large enough sample size to make that claim yet."

On the surface, Mr. Dubow said one possible explanation is that there are far more students in public schools than there are in private schools.

In 2007, 73 percent of children enrolled in school -- from first through 12th grades -- attended their assigned public school, and almost 16 percent attended a public school of their choice, according to the Institute of Education Science.

"Private schools are oftentimes different than public schools would be, and, you know, they might draw from a different geographical area. … They might draw from members of certain groups, religious groups, or socioeconomic groups," said Glenn Muschert, an associate professor of sociology at Miami University of Ohio. "I'm thinking that private schools are self-selected. Parents chose to send their children there."

"I would argue they would be, on average, more affluent and might be more homogenous in terms of their values," he added.

The average private school has fewer students and "there is more opportunity for them [teachers and administrators] to know their students, more opportunity to monitor them and what they're bringing to school," Mr. Muschert said.

More one-on-one time may allow school employees to better identify at-risk children, although the risk factors for children who have been named as perpetrators in school shootings are the same for youths who commit violent crimes in general, according to a 2000 study by researchers at Pacific University.

A 2007 Gallup Poll found that 24 percent of parents with school-aged children said they fear for the physical safety of their oldest child while the child is at school; 76 percent of parents said they did not worry.

BGSU professor Eric Dubow says the number of shootings does not allow conclusions whether  private schools are safer. BGSU professor Eric Dubow says the number of shootings does not allow conclusions whether private schools are safer.
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The poll also found that feelings toward school safety fluctuated, spiking at 55 percent immediately after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 13 dead.

Regardless of perception, schools, according to various studies, are some of the safest places for children.

In a 2007 paper published by Mr. Muschert, he states that, based on data from the 2004-05 academic year, there were 33 thefts, 22 violent crimes, and four serious violent crimes per 1,000 students. Fewer than 2 percent of homicides of school-age children happen at school; the risk is about one in 2 million, his paper states.

For children, their lives tend to revolve around school and home, Mr. Muschert said.

"Schools are kind of a microcosm for the community in which they exist," he said.

"So the conflicts we see in the communities are often replicated in schools."

The communities where rampage-style school shootings occurred in the past may be too small to support a private school, said Katherine Newman, dean of the Krieger school of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

And the type of community where shootings have happened, she said, is significant.

The affected communities that Ms. Newman studied, and then wrote about in her book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, were small and often far from an urban center.

Chardon, where three students were killed and two injured when a gunman opened fire in the high school Monday morning, is about 30 miles east of Cleveland.

These small towns, often branded as ideal places to raise children, are geographically isolated, she said.

"I don't think that's an accident," she added. "A boy who is disturbed and socially very marginal, and can't find a clique to be part of feels sentenced to this horrible condition for life. ... The very nature of these communities is that they're very stable. Stability, if you are an outcast in a stable place, feels like a life sentence."

"You don't imagine you're ever going to be able to leave and find something better," Ms. Newman said.

Ms. Newman also said that perpetrators, who are often quickly labeled as "loners," usually are not and the shooting isn't a first call for attention, but rather the last.

"They're not motivated by the desire to kill anyone. They're motivated to be approved of and remembered and feared or admired," Ms. Newman said.

"... That's a big improvement, from their point of view, over being seen as a loser.

"... They know they're going to kill people, but that's not what's motivating them," she said. "Usually it's what they think killing people will produce as a change in their own social identity."

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.



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