The Associated Press, July 20, 1998

Clinton Promotes School Discipline

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- President Clinton is calling a special White House conference for October, just before the congressional elections, focusing on the ``terrible toll'' that school violence is taking on students and teachers.

That means truancy and the ``smaller acts of aggression -- threats, scuffles, constant backtalk,'' he said Monday, not just the sensational killings that have shocked the nation.

The conference would be Oct. 15, calling attention less than three weeks before Election Day to subjects that rank at or near the top of many Americans' concerns. Democrats are hoping that education issues will help them retake control of Congress.

``We either have discipline in the classroom or we have disorder and, quite often, danger,'' Clinton said in an address to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers.

He alluded to the recent school shootings, including the May 21 killing of two students at a Springfield, Ore., high school, as a call to action and the spark for his White House conference.

``Learning cannot occur unless our schools are safe and orderly places where teachers can teach and children can learn,'' he added to ringing applause in the Morial Convention Center.

Talking tough on school violence, Clinton said tight curfews, strong anti-truancy measures, wider use of school uniforms and zero tolerance for guns in schools are important steps toward improving behavior in classrooms and improving learning at all levels.

Clinton, mixing policy with politicking, also headlined a fund-raising luncheon for Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., and was attending a Democratic National Committee dinner at a New Orleans restaurant before returning to Washington. He had spent the weekend in Little Rock, Ark.

In his address to the teachers' convention, Clinton said he would bring together educators, law enforcement officials and parents from across the country for the conference on school safety. It will be linked by satellite to schools nationwide.

Coming just before Election Day, the conference will put a spotlight on issues -- education and crime -- that Democrats hope will help them. Polls say education is the No. 1 issue among voters and resonates especially with parents.

In his speech, Clinton touted his administration's education record but bemoaned efforts by the Republican-controlled Congress to thwart some of his initiatives.

The speech was designed as a broad-brush defense of Clinton's education proposals, some of which are under attack in Congress, but the president combined that with a focus on crime, a traditional Republican issue that he managed to turn to his own advantage in the 1996 election.

``I would point out that in our '94 crime bill we did more to stiffen punishment for crimes under federal law than had ever been done,'' Clinton said. ``But you know and I know that we cannot jail our way out of this problem; we've got to prevent more of these kids from getting in trouble in the first place.''

Clinton called for more after-school programs and urged schools to set stricter behavior standards.

``In most schools it's not the sensational acts of violence but smaller acts of aggression -- threats, scuffles, constant backtalk -- that take a terrible toll on the atmosphere of learning, on the morale of teachers, on the attitudes of other students,'' he said.

With Washington's limited powers over education, Clinton spoke up for successful programs in local communities. He said he was particularly impressed with a Milwaukee policy that allows police to stop and question young people on the streets during school hours. And he touted Boston's move to make it harder for students to advance to the next grade if they skip class.

``Truancy is more than a warning sign; it is trouble -- a gateway to drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence,'' he said. ``Our children will either sit in class or stand on the streets.''

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