Getting Tough on School Shootings
The murder of a Tennessee high school assistant principal in November points to an alarming trend in school safety.
Thirty-nine school-associated violent deaths covered the 2004-05 school year, and 14 more students and teachers were murdered in the first three months of 2005-06 year, says Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. "Every school shooting was preventable," states Dale Yeager, president of Seraph Inc., a school safety training firm.
Metal detectors and cameras don't prevent school shootings, experts
say. The Columbine students who entered school in April 1999 with loaded guns did so on the same day the school installed $1 million in
Schools need systems for identifying violent children and proactively intervening in their lives, Yeager says. Trained educators can prevent future school shootings.
Yeager trains school staff about the basis of violent behavior and provides a practical tool kit including showing teachers how to tell and what to do when a student is carrying a gun. Calling a suspected gun-bearing student to the office is a mistake, Trump says. Instead educators need to secure the student or escort him or her out of the building.
"Most school safety problems can be managed away," Yeager adds, "and management doesn't cost a dime."
Pinpointing Substance Abuse
Educators may attribute adolescent mood swings and behavior changes to hormones or stress, but sometimes the problem is substance abuse.
School counselors and educators in 55 New Jersey high schools will receive training in a state-of-the-art substance abuse assessment tool to help them better identify abuse among students. The new program expands the state's school-based youth services program with an additional $1.2 million for training, school-based counseling and parenting workshops. It's designed to give educators "a better handle on addiction and prevention in schools," explains Ed Rogan, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
Last fall, state addiction services staff received training to administer the Comprehensive Addiction Severity Index Adolescent to identify potential substance abuse. In January, staff began teaching educators and social service agencies in participating schools to use the tool.
"We'll measure success by the number of participants in each training session and by evaluating outcomes among students," says Rogan.
The program is expected to reduce drug use, but Rogan concedes that it could seem like drug use is rising as educators learn to better report substance abuse problems.
Making Cyberspace Safer
Cyberspace can be dangerous for kids. Take 14-year-old Kelligh Prince who was solicited via an instant message from a sexual predator. Prince relied on instinct and later blocked the stranger's e-mail address.
Both online sexual predation and cyber-bullying are on the rise. Approximately 20 percent of kids under 18 received a sexual solicitation over the Internet in 2004, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. One in four girls and one in six boys have admitted to meeting Internet strangers in person, with 60 percent of teen girls admitting to cyber-sex, says Parry Aftab, executive director of wiredsafety.org.
Recent polls indicate that 75 percent to 80 percent of 12 to 14 year olds have been cyber-bullied. Cyber-bullying begins at age nine and morphs into sexual harassment by high school, says Aftab.
Schools need to tackle the problem to keep kids safe and head off potential lawsuits. "Many schools are unprepared for cyber-bullying," says Carolyn Walpole, director of education for i-SAFE.org.
And it opens a new field for lawsuits, says Walpole. Parents, students and civil liberty organizations argue that districts that punish kids for criticizing teachers or students in cyberspace violate kids' freedom of speech. They also maintain schools lack authority over off campus online activities.
The lynchpin of a good cyber safety plan is the acceptable use policy. "The policy should expressly indicate the district's jurisdiction over items outside of school [such as laptops and cell phones] and the rationale for the action," says Aftab.
"The acceptable use policy should spell out guidelines and consequences of using school equipment including networks to bully," adds Walpole.