Current weather

  • Scattered clouds
  • 54°
    Scattered clouds

Coming soon: Safety manual plus kinder, gentler schools

Posted: Monday, August 27, 2001

WASHINGTON -- At Columbine High School this fall, teachers can look forward to emergency response drills and crisis management guides. In a few weeks, a ''threat assessment manual'' prepared by the Secret Service arrives.

Teachers and staff at the Colorado school -- where 15 people died in a shooting spree two years ago -- also are being asked to sit down and chat with any student who feels threatened, intimidated, even just plain blue.

''Adults have to connect with students,'' said Rick Kaufman, spokesperson for the Jefferson County, Colo., school district. It includes the 2,000-student Columbine and 16 other high schools.

Across the nation, schools have reacted to campus shootings with a mix of tightened security and old-fashioned nurturing. Metal detectors, video cameras and 24-hour hot lines are going into operation. Schools are hiring counselors to spot signs that students are depressed. Teachers are getting training in mediation and conflict resolution.

''Probably every school in the country is doing something -- including elementary schools,'' said William Modzeleski, who heads the Education Department's Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.

Eight of 10 adults believe the schools in their community are either somewhat safe or very safe, according to an Associated Press poll conducted by ICR of Media, Pa. Those least likely to say that were black or Southern or had a high school education or less -- reflecting economic factors in schools. The poll of 1,006 adults was taken July 27-31 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A recent Secret Service study analyzing 37 school shootings since 1974 found that, in most cases, student shooters felt bullied or threatened at school. They did not just snap, the study found, but told classmates about their plans and left clues that could have warned of the attacks.

One youth interviewed for the study was Luke Woodham, who was convicted of killing two students and wounding seven at Pearl High School in Mississippi in 1997. He said he ''felt like nobody cared'' about him.

Statistics show that children in the United States are still safer in school than outside of it: fewer than 1 percent of children's violent deaths occur at or en route to school.

''It's not a hardware issue anymore -- it's an interpersonal issue,'' said Bill Bond, a security consultant for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. ''It's the relationship between the people in the school.''

Bond was the principal at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., in 1997, when a 14-year-old student used a gun to kill three students and wound five others.

Shootings over the past few years have affected the design of new schools, said architect Gary Prager of Englewood, Colo. He said designers are eliminating blind corners in hallways and removing lockers, often replacing them with cubbyholes. Lockers, Prager said, limit visibility, clog hallways and can be used to stash contraband.

In place of bathroom doors are fixed partitions one walks around for access, similar to those in airport restrooms.

Prager said he is designing schools in which classroom and staff workroom windows overlook hallways. ''What I'm finding is that the fewer places there are to hide in, the safer the environment,'' he said.

Architects are drawing up fewer entrances and placing front doors squarely in front of the principal's office so staff can see everyone arriving or leaving.

''Someone from the community coming to the school, they're really not going to gain access to the school as freely as they used to,'' Prager said.

Joe Pizza, principal of Silver Bay Elementary School in Toms River, N.J., said his school has a video camera trained on visitors as they pass through the front door.

''Even though the security camera is more cosmetic than anything else, it does give parents peace of mind,'' he said. The Columbine shootings, Pizza said, ''changed the way we do so many things.''

Several principals said they now investigate every threat, even those involving the youngest students.

''Now you have to follow every single thing up because anything is possible,'' Pizza said.



CONTACT US

  • 150 Trading Bay Rd, Kenai, AK 99611
  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS