Santee Shooting Highlights States' Efforts To Curb School Violence

 

Despite California's sweeping gun restrictions and $101 million the state set aside to prevent school violence, two students at a San Diego high school were killed Monday (3/5) and at least 13 others wounded by a lone gunman.

"This is my worst nightmare," Santana High School Principal Karen Degischer told CNN. The high school is in Santee, a suburb east of San Diego.

"I believe our faculty and students did well under the circumstances ... in the event of this type of situation the students, to the extent possible, are swept into classrooms and supervised by teachers and that did occur. I feel we were prepared to respond, [but] we don't know why this happened," Degischer said at a press conference.

"Tip lines, school safety plans, crisis intervention, a prompt response, and interagency collaboration before incidents take place" are the most effective ways school districts have found to combat school violence, according to Bernard James, Senior Training Officer for the National School Safety Center (NSSC) in WestlakeVillage, California.

The NSSC, which tracks school violence and works with districts to create customized school safety plans, considers California a model state. "We help other states by giving them copies of California's law," James said. "We are hoping to see that all the rules were followed and all the programs were in place when this all sorts out," he added.

According to news reports the alleged Santee gunman matches a profile of student shooters released by the US Secret Service last October. After reviewing 41 school shooters and 37 incidents some of the things the Secret Service learned include:

  • All attackers were boys or young men.
  • Handguns and rifles or shotguns were the primary weapons. In two-thirds of the cases, the attackers had taken the guns from their own homes or from the homes of relatives.
  • Most of the attackers had developed the idea at least two weeks prior to the attack.
  • Most 75 percent of the attackers told at least one peer before the shooting; in more than half the incidents, the attackers had told more than one person.

California responded with legislation to the tragic 1999 Columbine shooting, when 14 students, including the two shooters, and one adult, were murdered in Colorado.

The Golden State invoked the Columbine massacre while tightening its gun laws a year after the shooting. One of the toughest limits hand gun sales to one a month per buyer.

During the same legislative session, California doled out $101 million to local school districts under the "School Safety and Violence Prevention Act." The state provided a general guideline that the money be used for school safety. It was left up to individual districts to decide how to use the money.

"Districts use a wide variety of measures - from random metal detector checks and dog sniffing, to dress codes, school uniforms, conflict management and counseling," Jean Scott, California Department of Education program consultant, tells stateline.org.

Santana High School Principal Degischer said her school did not have metal detectors but did have campus security personnel. Many of the students at Santee High School have been trained in anti-violence techniques. Teachers are prepped, campus supervisors have been trained and the principal has been given SWAT training.

It had appeared that states were getting a handle on potential violence; school violence has been steadily declining over the last eight years, and since January there have been only a handful of attempts at violence. All were thwarted by vigilant tipsters.

James of NSSC says sharing of information is the big issue when dealing with school violence.

"Students come to the administration frequently and talk to us about things that are bothering them," said Degischer. " Parents are in a group called I CARE and they help the school with safety issues."

States surveyed by stateline.org that have considered or have passed school violence measures since the start of the 2000-2001 school year:

  • New Jersey approved $8.1 million for violence prevention, mental health care and crisis response plans.
  • New Hampshire lawmakers are considering a moment of silence to encourage good values and prevent violence.
  • Maine schools have been besieged by bomb threats and lawmakers are mulling bills to toughen penalties. The state already takes threat makers' drivers' license away, as well as their right to work or fish until age 20, and parents may have to pay out up to $10,000 in restitution. A legislative panel has also recommended character education, a curriculum designed to build values in students.
  • Colorado voters backed a constitutional amendment that requires background checks for every gun sold at a gun show.
  • Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Ridge signed a "Safe Schools Advocate" position and a house panel continues to study the state's school violence problems.
  • Ohio held a forum on school violence that focused on positive behavior.The FBI The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective, US Secret Service An Interim Report On the Prevention Of Targeted Violence In School and US Surgeon General Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General have all released reports on school violence since the start of this school year.
 
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