T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

President Clinton's Remarks at the White House Conference on School Safety

Help Site Map Text Only

The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 15, 1998


The East Room

1:28 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Your kindness is interferingwith my determination to stay on schedule. (Laughter.) But thankyou very much. I want to thank Secretary Riley and Attorney GeneralReno for their devotion and consistent work on this matter. I thankthe Vice President. He and Hillary and I are delighted to have allof you here at the White House today, and the many, many people allacross America who are joining us, thanks to the technologicalrevolution.

I thank the members of Congress who are here. And,Governor, thank you for coming -- and the mayors and the othermembers of the administration, and all the distinguished citizens whoare here. Our good friend, Edward James Olmos, thank you for beinghere.

I saw a survey, a public opinion survey a few months agothat asked the American people what they thought the most importantstory of the first six months of 1998 was, and dwarfing everythingelse was the concern our people had for the children who were killedin their schools. And I think that your presence here and the numberof people who are involved all across America, the quality of thepanelists and, indeed, the courage of many of them -- the mother ofone of the children killed at Jonesboro, Arkansas, in my home state,was on the morning panel with Hillary -- this is truly a movingthing. And it's a very important thing for our country.

You know, when I leave here -- and I hope I don't haveto leave before this panel is over, but I think all of you know thatwe have been able to put together a conference for several days, ameeting between the Prime Minister of Israel and the Chairman of thePLO in our attempts to make the next big step toward peace in theMiddle East. And I got to thinking about it on the way over heretoday, as I was walking over from the Oval Office, and all the thingsI'm trying to get these people to lay down and get over and give up,so they can go on with their children's future, so that we can stopinnocent children from being killed in the place in the world that isthe home of the world's three great monotheistic religions.

It's all a part of our attempt not to give up on anybodyand not to permit hatred or anger to destroy even one child's lifeanywhere. And if we're going to do that elsewhere in the world, totry to be a force for good, then we have to be as good as we can hereat home. And all of you are trying to help us achieve that, and I'mvery, very grateful to you.

Because this is the only chance I'll have to do ittoday, and because all of you care so much about education, I'd liketo just take a moment to talk about where these budget negotiationsare on Capitol Hill. They're about to concluded, I hope -- they'vecertainly gone on long enough. But we're not quite there yet.However, even though there are still points outstanding, I believewe'll succeed. And as the Vice President said, one thing we knowalready, we know that now this budget will reflect a major commitmentto education and to the future of our children.

I am very pleased it will make the first installment onour plan to hire 100,000 new teachers. (Applause.) You heard theVice President's catalogue of the class size issue, but the Secretaryof Education tells me that we haven't fully grasped it because,unlike the baby boom, we think that this increase in our childrenwill go on more or less indefinitely, and we've got a lot of veryfine teachers in the classroom who will be retiring in the next fewyears. So this is a huge challenge for us.

The United States has never before done anything likethis. And there were a lot of people who honestly thought I waswrong to fight for this or they disagreed with me, but it seems to methat we had enough experience when we put 100,000 police on thestreet. I was told the United States had never done anything likethat before. We didn't have anything to do with telling the citieswhere the police should go, but the results have been prettysatisfactory. And everywhere I go, someone mentions it to me.

If it worked there and we have crime at a 25-year low,how much more important is it to put the children in the classroom?And this will make a major down payment toward our goal of an averageclass size of 18 in the early grades -- very different from what hasbeen reported.

And I should also say that when the Attorney General andthe Secretary of Education went out across the country in the wake ofall of these school shootings, and they met with educators and theymet with people talking about how we can prevent these things fromhappening in the first place, one of the things that they were toldwas, get us small classes in the early grades so that we can get toknow these children, find out the ones who obviously have got someserious problems, and try to get them the help they need before theirlives and others' are irrevocably changed. So this is a very, verygood day for the United States.

There were some other very important educationalinitiatives that will be fully supported -- our child literacy drive,to make sure every child can read independently by the end of the 3rdgrade; our college mentoring drive to help lower-income studentsprepare for college and to be able to tell every one of them whatkind of financial aid they'll get if they stay in school and learntheir lessons and stay out of trouble.

It increases support for Head Start, expands the numberof innovative charter schools. There are now 1,000 of those schoolsin America; there was one when I became President, and there will be3,000 before we're done in 2000.

We will provide for half a million summer jobs for ouryoung people, a program that many had sought to eliminate. It willprovide for after-school programs for a quarter million young people.And I think we all know how important that is.

I'm very, very grateful for the strong support I havereceived from the members of my party in the Congress to turn awayattempts to actually cut funds from our public schools and instead torenew our historic commitment to them, to more and better-trainedteachers, to smaller classes, to hooking up all those classrooms tothe Internet by the year 2000, for extra support for children whoneed it, for accountability and choice.

This is what I mean by putting partisanship behindprogress, by putting people ahead of politics. And I am grateful toall those in both parties who are responsible for pulling thisagreement together.

There's still a lot to be done. A lot of these teacherswe'll hire will have to hold class in trailers or hallways, orcrowded or crumbling classrooms. I proposed in the State of theUnion a targeted tax cut for school modernization that was fully paidfor, wouldn't take a dime from the surplus, won't create a single newfederal bureaucracy, but it will lower the cost of building thesebuildings. It could mean as much as 300 new schools in Florida alonenext year.

If our children are learning in trailers and schoolswith broken windows and where the wiring won't even permit them to behooked up to computers, then we're not getting them ready for the21st century. So I do want to say, while I am profoundly gratefulfor the 100,000 teachers, I am determined to see that we finish thejob next year in the next Congress. (Applause.)

Now, I also want to thank the First Lady for her role inthis conference. We've been at this a long time. In 1983, when Iwas governor of our state, I asked Hillary to chair a commission onschool standards, and one of the things that we fought hardest for,that was very controversial at the time, was to have a class sizelimit of 20 in the early grades. And 15 years ago, it was a hardfight, and we got it. And I haven't checked the numbers yet, but Ibet, given the growth in population in our schools, they're beingswamped and hard-pressed to meet it. And we really believe thatmaking this a national goal and sticking with it will pay major,major benefits to our children all across the country.

Let me also say what I've already said a little bit of.The American people -- if I had been polled, I would have been rightthere with them. I think that all of us were shocked by the violencewe saw in Springfield and Paducah and Jonesboro and Edinboro andPearl. I think we're still disturbed when we see the sights of metaldetectors in school doorways or see gangs of young people who are onthe streets when they ought to be in the halls of their schools.

We know that there are still some schools where childrenare afraid to go to school. And doing something about schoolviolence, therefore, is very important, but also we have tounderstand the nature, the magnitude of the problem. Why do someteenagers from some troubled backgrounds pick up guns and open fireon their classmates? Why do some teenagers who don't appear to havetrouble at home do the same thing? What is at the bottom of this andwhat can we really do?

You know, I have to say this -- and I'm not blaminganybody because I've done it myself, so I will posit the fact that Ihave done this -- but when people are in elected office and they hearabout a problem like this, and they know the people they're doingtheir best to represent are afraid, the first impulse is always tosay, well, if we just punish them a little harder and a little fasterand kept them a little longer, everything would be all right. Now,the truth is that some people are so far gone and what they have doneis so heinous that that is the appropriate thing to do. But I havenever met a police officer in my life who believed that we couldpunish our way out of our social problems without other appropriateactions -- not one time. And I think we're all here because webelieve in a good society we would stop more bad things fromhappening in the first place.

The report that's being released today tells us that thevast majority of our schools are safe, that the majority of ourchildren are learning in peace and security. But it also tells usthat in too many schools students feel unsafe. Even if they're not,if they feel unsafe it's going to have a huge detrimental impact ontheir ability to learn and grow and relate to their fellow studentsin an appropriate way.

In too many schools, there is still too much disrespectfor authority and still too much intolerance of other students fromdifferent backgrounds. Our schools, all of them, must be sanctuariesof safety and civility and respect.

Now, here are some things that I think we can do to helpyou meet the challenge. First, in the schools with the biggestviolence problems, security has to be the top priority. Today, I ampleased to announce a new $65-million initiative to help schools hireand train 2,000 new community police and school resource officers towork closely with principals and teachers and parents and thestudents, themselves, to develop antiviolence and antidrug plans,based on the actual needs of individual schools. Community policinghas helped to make our streets safe; it can work for our schools,too.

I'm also very pleased that Congressman Jim Maloney ofConnecticut has sponsored a bill to help schools use the fundsavailable for hiring the community police officers to hire officersto work with the schools. This bill was passed by the House andSenate and it will get up here to me in a day or two and I'll lookforward to signing it into law.

Second, we have to help schools recognize the earlywarning signs of violence and to respond to violence when it doesstrike. Today, I want to tell you that soon I will be sending toCongress a plan to create a School Emergency Response to Violence,the SERV Program, that will work just as FEMA does when it respondsto natural disasters. Project SERV will travel to where the troubleis and help communities respond quickly to school violence, fromhelping schools to meet increased security needs, to providingemergency and longer-term mental health crisis counseling forstudents, faculty and their families.

Now, let me just say a word here of appreciation tosomebody who is not here, to Tipper Gore, who, once she became 50,fell victim to the Vice President and my propensity for leg injuries-- (laughter) -- but, you know, more than any other person in Americasince we've been here in the White House, she has tried to elevatethe importance of proper mental health care and the fundamentaldignity of it. And I think that we have got to, all of us, keepworking until we remove any last vestige of stigma that attaches togetting treatment for children who have troubling mental problems.We know that most of them, the vast majority of them, can be treatedsuccessfully. And we know that it is not a cause for shame or denialamong families. And we have to keep working on that. And all ofyou, I ask you to join Tipper Gore and others who understand this andtry to make that a part of our approach to this issue as well.

Third, we can't stop the prevention efforts at theschoolhouse door. As I said, the budget agreement we reached todaywill double or more the after-school programs that keep young peoplesafe after the bell rings. But if young people leave the safe schooland enter an unsafe community, they're in trouble.

Today we want to announce two new steps to help themmeet that challenge. Our Safe Schools-Safe Communities initiativewill help 10 targeted communities develop plans to reduce youthviolence and drug use in and out of school -- not only more police,but after-school programs, mentoring, counseling, conflictresolution, mental health services, and more. We wanted to puttogether in at least 10 places that don't have it now, a trulycomprehensive approach.

I'm also pleased to announce that in response toconstructive criticism and suggestions from many members of Congressand educators and community leaders across this country, we're goingto overhaul our Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, which we havedramatically increased in the last few years, to require schools whoget the funds to establish tough, but fair discipline rules; to putin place proven drug prevention strategies; to issue yearly schoolsafety and drug use report cards to measure their own progress.These methods have worked so well in cities like Boston, they canwork around the country, and it will guarantee that the money that'sbeing spent will actually achieve the results that it's beenappropriated to achieve.

Fourth, we have to expect more from young peoplethemselves. Given the facts, the resources, the encouragement,almost all of them will do the right thing. This year we launched ahuge media campaign to tell young people that drugs are wrong,illegal and can kill you. Now we have to tell them they, too, haveresponsibilities to prevent youth violence, to help their fellowstudents who are violence prone, to report trouble signs they see andtry to help kids get the help they need.

I am pleased that MTV is going to work with us to launcha new campaign to encourage people to become mentors -- young people-- to help their peers resolve their conflicts peacefully. And,again, I'm very grateful and I'd like for all of you to join me inthanking MTV for their willingness to invest in this importantendeavor. (Applause.)

Lastly -- I've spoken a little longer than I meant tobecause I wanted to really hear the panelists, but I return to thetheme on which I began and what I will do when I leave here inworking for the peace process in the Middle East. We have got to domore to teach our young people to have tolerance and respect for oneanother; to understand the rich and only superficial dichotomy thatthe more we appreciate each other's diversity, the more we reaffirmthe fundamental core values and existence we have in common.

The recent death of young Matthew Shepard in Wyomingmakes it all too clear to us that violence still can be motivated byprejudice and hatred. Yes, we do need a new hate crimes law. And Ihave directed the Education Department Civil Office to step up itsenforcement to stop discrimination and harassment against students.But, again, ultimately, we have to be reconciled to one another. Wehave to believe in one another's fundamental humanity and equal rightto be here and to become whatever they can become.

And I hope that all of us -- the young people of thiscountry, because our school population is more diverse than everbefore, and because to some extent they are unburdened by some of theproblems that their parents and grandparents grew up with, can goeither way with this issue. If they become the victims of a kind ofa current climate of prejudice and bigotry and a sense of oppositionand isolation, because of our increasing diversity it could wreaktotal havoc in this country, in a way that we can't even imagine andeven couldn't have imagined in the old days of the civil rightsyears. But if they do what they will do left to their own betterselves, then the increasing diversity of America is something thatwill guarantee us renewed strength, unparalleled opportunities in the21st century world.

So I don't think we should forget that, either. In theend, the human heart still counts for quite a great deal, and weought to bring out the best in all the ones we can.

Now, I would like to start the program -- and I'm goingto sit down to do it -- and I'd like to begin with Mr. Kent, JamonnKent, who is the Superintendent of the Springfield, Oregon, publicschools, that I had the honor the visit after the terrible incidentthere. And because we're running a little late, I'm going to dosomething a little bit unconventional. I'm going to call on the allthe panelists to make their remarks and then open for questions,starting with Mr. Kent. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I don't want to violate my own rule, soI won't ask a question, but I do want to highlight one thing he said,because if it resonates with your experience, then we need yourfeedback to the Attorney General and to the Secretary of Education,ultimately to the Congress.

We now have a national policy of zero tolerance for gunsin schools. Last year, I believe the number of -- the Secretary ofEducation can correct me if I make a mistake -- last year, I believethere were 6,000 children who were found -- students who were foundwith guns. Guns were taken, and they were sent home. This actuallyhappened in Oregon to this young man right before he came back thenext day and killed the kids.

So the question is what is -- we have to find theconstitutional fix here, and then the schools have to have theresources so that you don't just take a gun and expel somebodybecause there's obviously something going on inside the child that isjust as important as the physical manifestation of having the gun.So that was the one thing that they've really done in Springfield, isto sort of spark a nationwide reassessment of what we ought to dowith the children besides just send them home.

And they've proposed a period of 72 hours or some sortof period of evaluation, and we're trying to work out the details ofit. But if any of you have any thoughts about this, I would ask youto give it to us, because that's a very clear issue that was raisedin the Springfield case, that I must confess until I went and talkedto them had never occurred to me before.

I'd like to now call on Commissioner Paul Evans, thePolice Commissioner from Boston who led Boston's innovative operationCease-fire. I spent a half a day up there with the Mayor and theCommissioner and others several months ago. And many of you knowthat Boston went for over two years without having a single childunder 18 killed by a gun. That's astonishing. (Applause.)

And so I would like for Commissioner Evans to makewhatever remarks he'd like to make on this subject.

THE PRESIDENT: I would like to make one briefobservation about what the Commissioner said, because I have spent agreat deal of time in Boston -- and I don't want to single them outin derogation of the astonishing efforts that have been madeelsewhere, many of which have already been featured. But the thingthat strikes me -- it struck me when I spent a day up there and I metwith -- the Mayor's got a nun who represents him, who has this youthcouncil for the city. The city has its own youth council, likeothers have the city council. But the thing that struck me aboutBoston is they do things that seem obvious when you hear about them,but a lot of people don't do it. The systematic contact that theyhave in a personal, one-to-one way, with a huge percentage of theyoung people in their cities is quite astonishing.

And if somebody asked me, in a sentence, why have theybeen so successful, I would say they mobilize in a systematic way aconsistent contact with a huge percentage of the young people. Theidea of, you know, well, we hear we're going to have a gang problemin middle school, why don't we go interview the customers. You know,if you were running a business that's exactly what you'd do. But Ithink they deserve a lot of appreciation, but also a lot of modelingfor that.

THE PRESIDENT: I have two brief things to say. Firstof all, don't you feel better knowing that there are people like herin the classrooms of America? (Applause.)

And second, I want to thank you for what you said aboutschool uniforms. When Secretary Riley and I set out to promoteschool uniforms around the country, there were some here inWashington who derided this as one of those "little ideas" that wewere constantly harping on. It may be a little idea, but I havenever been to a school that had them that didn't think it made a hugedifference in the lives of the children there. And so I thank youfor giving a boost to that endeavor.

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I want to apologize to allof you, and in particular to Mayor Corradini, who made a terrificpresentation, according to the First Lady. I got a call -- we justcompleted our agreement on the budget and the negotiations --(applause.) In a half hour or so, for the members of the press,we'll have a statement about that.

But let me say, first, I think about CongressmanEtheridge, it is -- one of the things that we desperately -- that weneed so much in Congress -- Congress works better when there arepeople in the Congress who have all kinds of different experiencesthat are relevant. It's an incredible gift that we have a member ofthe House of Representatives that was actually a state superintendentof public instruction. And the influence he can have on othermembers and the role he can play in the years ahead I think isvirtually limitless just because of the life he lived before he camethere. And I'm very grateful for what he said today and for whathe's done.

I would also like to thank Mayor Corradini for thereport, for the recommendations and for the Best Practices booklet.I think that we need -- every single challenge we've got in thiscountry, we'd be a lot better off if everybody who was working on itissued a Best Practices book, because one of my pet theories is thateverybody solved every problem somewhere, but we're not very good atplaying copycat when we ought to. So I thank her for that.

The only other thing I want to say, and then I want toturn it over to the Vice President and let him ask a question, isthat the mayors recommended new youth counselors, and Bob talkedabout other kinds of support personnel on security issues. One ofthe things that we had to fight hardest for in 1983, that Hillaryconvinced me we ought to do 15 years ago, was to require everyelementary school to have a counselor. But 15 years later, it lookslike a pretty good decision.

And I think we have to -- with people who have to payfor these things, with the taxpayers and others who may not deal withit, we need to let them know that a well-trained counselor dealingwith the kind of challenges these children face is a terrificinvestment. And I appreciate the recommendation of the mayors and Ilike forward to following up on them.

THE PRESIDENT: I would have an elementary school thatwould have classes between 15 and 20 in the early grades. I wouldhave a maximum number of kids in the school of about 300. I wouldhave -- and about 1,000 for the high school. I would have thesupport personnel, I'd have all the teachers trained, and I'd have aparent coordinator that had huge numbers of the parents coming in andout of the schools all the time.

And then I'd try to figure out how to make young peoplelike Liberty the rule rather than the exception. That is -- I wassitting here when she was telling her story -- I was thinking aboutshe got to the Boys and Girls Club, and that's a good thing, butthere's a whole bunch of kids that live in the place where she doesthat didn't get there, and that's not a good thing. And so I thinkthat would mean you'd either have comprehensive before- andafter-school programs and summer school programs for the kidson-site, or there would be some system by which the school, ineffect, connected every child to responsible adult community groupsof some kind that Professor Earles says works so well.

I think those are the things that I would -- I basicallybelieve you've got to have problem-solving mechanisms, but I thinkthe prevention approach is by far the best approach. And I thinkalmost all -- so that's what I would do.

In the high schools, it's more complicated. I'd alsohave a uniform policy. I think they're very important. I'd be in acommunity that had a strong antitruancy policy. If I had a violenceproblem, I'd have a curfew. I'd be interconnected with all of thechurches and synagogues and other faith institutions. I would havethe school bringing people in in a systematic way, and I would beconnected with the police department that would do what theCommissioner explained that they tried to do in Boston.

But I think -- in the high schools, I think that, as Isaid, I'd make sure that we had programs that would keep every childwho needed it, give them all an opportunity to be in the school.

Let me just say one other thing that I think is worthsaying. It may have been put on the table while I was out briefly.But twice -- if you read what the mayors say here, twice, they say,they talk about the importance of the arts programs, the musicprograms, the physical education programs -- not the kids that are onthe athletic teams, the other things. I have seen school afterschool after school all across this country, because of the financialburdens on the schools, have to abandon these programs. And I thinkit is terrible.

I think that -- basically, all of these people aresaying you've got to treat the whole child here, deal with the wholechild, deal with the family situation, deal with the communitysituation. And I just wanted to put in a little plug for that. Ithink that there are a lot of ways to learn in this life, a lot ofways to communicate in this life, and a lot of ways for people tofind greater peace and connection. And I think it's been a terriblesetback to American education that so many schools have had toabandon their art programs, their music programs and their physicaleducation programs for the non-team athletes. Anything we can doto advance that I think would also be positive. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, I wish we could stay hereanother hour, but we have another panel. We don't want to deprivethem of the opportunity to make their contributions and to be heard.Perhaps at the end of that, you could have a more free-flowingquestion and answer session.

But again, let me thank all of you. And let me ask youto join me in thanking all of our remarkable panelists for theircontributions. Thank you. (Applause.)

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement

What's New - October 1998

School Safety

Third Quarter GDP Numbers

Unemployment Numbers

Saving Social Security for the 21st Century

1998 Budget Surplus

The Budget Agreement

The Wye Conference Center

Breast Cancer Awareness Event

Funding for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment

Wye Plantation Departure Remarks

Today's Space Shuttle Launch

Middle East Peace Signing

Discussion on Social Security

Colombian President Pastrana

Remarks After Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat

Legislative Priorities

1998 IMF/World Bank Annual Meeting

Higher Education Act

Medicare Beneficiaries

Education Agenda

America's Top Cops

Education Agenda

The John F. Kennedy Space Center

Conference on School Safety

Women and Retirement Security

Standards For Impeachment