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Rural Ed. Group Calls for Improving School Climates as Solution to Violence

More and better research is needed on violence and related issues, and more attention should be paid to existing research that suggests safer schools leads to better schools.

Those are two of the conclusions in a report released today from The Rural School and Community Trust, one of the country's leading rural education advocacy groups.

The nonprofit produced the report, "Rural Policy Matters Special Edition on School Violence," because it wanted to better understand violence in schools and ways to keep schools safe. The report comes in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and as the nation grapples with ways to address school safety, guns, and mental health.

Some of their findings are similar to those in a separate report, "The Gun-Free Way to School Safety," released on Thursday by a coalition of civil rights groups. They recommended creating positive school climates, comprehensive crisis plans, and improved safety features, rather than adding police officers to schools.

The Rural Trust report looked at about 700 accounts of violent events in which someone died or multiple victims were threatened at school. It found that the "preponderance of guns" as students' weapon of choice suggests that efforts to reduce easy access could help reduce violent deaths in school.

But the most promising approach to reducing school violence is improving school climate, according to the report. Many education policies, however, have restricted personalization and flexibility, which are key features in schools that have positive climates, the report notes.

"Better school environments won't end all internal violence and won't stop intruders," according to the report. "But they will ameliorate some of the current conditions that drive students to commit violent acts that too often end the lives of their classmates and teachers."

The report doesn't focus on rural areas, but it does claim that some politicians will try to speak for "rural America" and classify all rural residents into one category, such as universally opposed to gun legislation.

"In the context of the issue of gun violence, especially, we challenge policymakers and media to pay attention to the complexity of the nation's rural regions and issues, its vastness, and its diversity," according to the report.

The report has some interesting figures, such as a breakdown of the percentage of schools reporting violent crimes by locale in 2009-10. Rural areas trailed towns, suburbs, and cities for the number of incidents.

The report also looks at trends among violent incidents, such as where incidents happen most often (high schools) and the most common weapon used to kill (guns).

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