Officials Go All Out To Limit Potential For School Violence
By Bair S Walker , Senior Writer
While students enjoyed summer break, lawmakers and education officials worked overtime to prevent further outbursts of school violence like the one that stunned Columbine High School in suburban Denver. As a result, many students are returning to a world of security badges, see-through book bags and surveillance cameras around every corner.
Metal detectors are springing up and windows once left open remain shuttered, as though to ward off another heart-rending episode of youthful mass murder.
No corner of the United States is immune to fears of school violence, not even in the heartland. In Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, book bags are banned from classrooms and outside school doors are kept locked. School officials in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are contemplating putting cellular phones in each classroom.
Kansas has instituted a 24-hour anonymous toll-free hotline for students to report potential violence.
South Carolina students can drop their tips off on the Information Highway, via a new web site dubbed the "Cyber Tip Line."
The accompanying phone tip line is 1-877-SEE-A-GUN.
You could substitute the words "South Carolina" with the name of practically any other state when attorney general Charlie Condon warns "we cannot allow South Carolina's halls of learning to be turned into corridors of crime."
Louisiana has a new law requiring students to address teachers with 'ma'am' and 'sir.'
In Florida, more than 300 school administrators and law enforcement agencies anxiously huddled in Tampa earlier this month to hammer out ways of improving school emergency response plans. Florida has also earmarked an extra $20 million for school safety programs.
In North Carolina, Gov. Jim Hunt says that building smaller schools will lead to improved safety.
In Colorado, the state forever linked with the Columbine High shootings, the Colorado School Safety hotline is being hooked up, modeled after a hotline implemented by the Georgia Department of Education earlier this year. Columbine students returned to school in mid-August to find 16 new surveillance cameras and armed security personnel at the front door.
Many school districts have the erroneous impression that school violence is their unique problem, says John Yeakey, with the National Resource Center for Safe Schools.
"School districts in a lot a states are still battling with the idea that this is an issue that they need to be tackling by themselves," says Yeakey. "This issue is so much larger than what an individual school district should be trying to cope with on their own."
That theme has been echoed by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who says government is "not a good substitute" for families when it comes to dealing with violent student behavior.
Schools shootings are indicative of societal problems that extend beyond the walls of a school and should be handled accordingly, says Yeakey.
He says Missouri has done a good job building "collaborative relationships between law enforcement, parents and school officials to address school violence."
Pennsylvania has excelled at using community health centers as hubs for involving school districts, mental health professionals and law enforcement officials, Yeakey added.
Ironically, the fear parents and officials have of school mayhem is peaking at a time when violence is actually on the downswing.
The number of students expelled for bringing firearms to school dropped 31 percent during the 1997-98 school year compared to 1996-97, a new Education Department report suggests.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research indicates that violent acts committed by high school students dropped from 1991 to 1997.
According to the CDC, the number of high school students who admitted to carrying a weapon of any type the previous month declined from 26.1 percent in 1991 to 18.3 percent in 1997.
In 1997, 36.6 percent of high school students surveyed said they had been in a fight the previous year. In 1991, the percentage was 42.5 percent.