The news: In November, a federal judge sided with a group of 11 students suing for their right to transfer out of Christian Fenger Academy High School. An honors student was beaten to death in a fight near the school in September.
Behind the news: Problems with teen violence extend well beyond any single high school, according to a 2009 survey conducted with 574 black and Latino high school students in the city.
The survey, conducted in the summer by the Mikva Challenge, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works to get high school students involved in political processes, indicated the sense of danger teens feel in their neighborhoods. About 48 percent of respondents said violence is among the top three issues affecting young people today. And 66 percent of respondents said they would consider having federal troops in their neighborhoods to help control violence.
The survey also showed that many youth think high school is too late to start anti-violence interventions. More than 61 percent of survey respondents said young people become engaged in violence while they are in middle school, with about half of the respondents reporting grades 6 to 8 as the best years to work with youth to prevent violence.
It is tempting to shift the response to violence from constructive to punitive, said Jaime Arteaga, director of the Mikva Challenge Youth and Safety Council. “As an administrator, when you are faced with such tragic and public scenarios as the one occurring at Fenger, your No. 1 focus is to no longer be in the news,” said Arteaga, who helped conduct the survey.
“You might be more compelled to arrest [students] so that there are no incidents that can be reported on the news, and you also close yourself off from community partners who matter.”