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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
The Board of Education and other agencies involved will submit reports on the school safety program to deputy mayors Barbara Fife and Norman Steisel every two weeks.
The city comptroller and the School Construction Authority will be asked to speed up the purchase of metal detectors.55
The United Federation of Teachers, the New York City teachers’ union, argued for other safety measures as well. They urged that “dangerous kids” be placed in “special settings.” They demanded the transfer of 25 to 30 students out of Thomas Jefferson High School. This was a controversial proposition, not least because none of the students involved in the shootings, whether shooter or victim, appeared to fit the description of “dangerous kid.” The chancellor was not in favor of such a program and resisted wholesale removals without due process.
School transfers were a tool that parents considered as a way of protecting their children. Mass transfers were feared in the immediate aftermath of the second shooting. In fact, Newsday erroneously reported, “More than 400 students asked to transfer out … in the wake of the shooting deaths Wednesday.”56 Carol Beck was quoted in the same piece as saying, “We got through a very trying day. There were many parents who came, some apprehensive and concerned, but they saw the strength of the students who were here. We aren’t acting so quickly, snatching the children and discharging them.” Her comments acknowledged the very real fear of mass transfers. That the transfers did not materialize may be attributable in part to the massive outpouring of support for the school provided by celebrities, politicians, local community leaders, and others. One student, Eric Alexander, was quoted as saying, “At first we thought we were on our own. I wanted to see who cared, who is for real, which teachers showed up. It made a difference.”57 In the weeks after the second shooting, only 10 students applied to transfer.
Perhaps the most innovative idea—one that was proposed prior to the shootings as part of his efforts to respond to high levels of violence— was Chancellor Fernandez’s idea to create 50 small schools, to replace very large schools like Thomas Jefferson, which had had as many as 4,000 students enrolled. Fernandez received substantial support from New York’s business and foundation communities and was able to establish 40 new schools, often organized around innovative concepts.58
Building Social Cohesion
A wide array of community efforts was undertaken to build social cohesion. Among these were a series of antiviolence marches and rallies, led by local organizers and attended by celebrities, including Bill Cosby,