Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Schools attempt to thwart tragedy

Metal detectors, hot lines aren't guarantees

By Jennifer Mrozowski and Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        From metal detectors to resource officers to hot lines, Tristate schools have dozens of safety measures to help prevent violence.

        But a day after the shooting that left two dead and 13 wounded in a Santee, Calif., high school, local educators and school administrators said that the safety measures are no guarantee.

        “First, understand that nobody can totally prevent this,” John Concannon, general counsel for Cincinnati Public Schools, said Tuesday. “However, you can take all precautions possible to reduce the chances of it happening in your district.”

    While experts say schools are still among the safest places for students, they offer these tips on maintaining that status:
    • Students and adults should report a threat to police or a school administrator, even if it seems unlikely. Report tips anonymously to WeTip, a national hot line that takes tips around the clock. The number is (800) 78-CRIME.
    • Pay attention to bullies and their targets to keep the problem from escalating.
    • Try to get kids connected to school through clubs, sports or community service.
    • Spot warning signs, such as mood shifts, angry outbursts, withdrawal from friends or risk-taking.
        CPS instituted a preventive safety plan in 1994, including installation of security cameras at many of the district's schools, and a process for random searches and checks with hand-held metal detectors, said spokeswoman Jan Leslie.

        In the 1999-2000 school year, the district conducted 489 metal detector searches of 34,133 students, Mr. Concannon said.

        Listening also is key. Though not discovered during a metal detector search, a 13-year-old Jacobs Center student was arrested Feb. 8 when he was found carrying two guns after staff members heard him threaten some girls.

        About 85 percent of Ohio schools, including CPS, contract with Columbus-based Security Voice Inc. to offer the Safe School Helpline. Company president Pat Sullivan said the 24-hour confidential hot line allows students to leave tips of possible violent threats, drug use or other crimes.

        Nineteen other states also tap into the hot line.

        In 1999, Ohio set aside $1.8 million to help school districts establish such school help lines.

        Since then, 504 public school districts and 20 joint-vocational districts have implemented hot lines, said Department of Education spokeswoman Dottie Howe.

        In 1998, Kentucky's General Assembly created the Center for School Safety, which provides school safety data analysis, information about successful school safety, research and technical assistance to schools.

        The center, operated by a consortium of three state universities and aided by the Kentucky School Boards Association, awards $11 million annually to Kentucky schools for safe school initiatives.

        School districts throughout the Tristate are doing what they can to become safer.

        Kings Local Schools in Warren County purchased a $30,000 security camera system this school year for Kings High and Kings Junior High schools, said spokeswoman Linda Oda. The school also has a full-time police officer who works at the high school.

        Covington Independent Schools in Kentucky added more than 200 security cameras inside and out side its schools this year for about $378,000, said Superintendent Jack Moreland. Covington also added a safety director, who coordinates safety planning.

        “We said if we're going to err, we'd rather err on the side of safety,” Mr. Moreland said.

        Less than six months ago, Mount Healthy North Middle School averted a potential tragedy.

        On Sept. 18, a 14-year-old student fired a gunshot into the ceiling of his eighth-grade classroom. He pointed the gun at a teacher and ordered the 15 other students in the class out of the room. The teen surrendered after talking with a police officer who works at the school.

        Even before the shooting, the school required students to keep book bags and jackets in their lockers. Yet, the student smuggled the gun to class inside baggy pants covered by a oversized T-shirt.

        As a result, North Middle School will establish a school uniform policy this fall.

        Principal Eugene Blalock intends to increase communication with students about school violence after he heard that students in California knew about the gunman's plans to bring a weapon to school but didn't tell an adult.

        “You can't look at it like, "I'm ratting out this person or that person.' You have to look at it like you're doing something positive that might save lives.”

- Schools attempt to thwart tragedy
Lesson in tragedy: Bullying can have lethal consequences
Police prep for school violence

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