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School security 1st on agenda at San Diego convention

By Maureen Magee
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
April 16, 2005 - Just weeks after a Minnesota high school student killed nine others and himself, school board members from around the country were urged to keep campus security a top priority to help prevent violence in their districts.

Leading a workshop that kicked off a National School Boards Association convention in San Diego yesterday, security consultant Ken Trump said campus safety cannot take a back seat to budget woes and pressure to raise test scores.

"It's hard to keep school safety on the front burner with all the other issues and political pressures we are facing," said Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services. "But the worst time to make security changes is after a crisis . . . when you make knee-jerk reactions."

School trustees discussed everything from preparing for potential terrorism to arming school police officers with Tasers.

"These are all national problems," said David Hawkins, a board member from the New Richmond School District in Ohio. "We are worried about violence and terrorism. We have two power plants in our district, so we could be a target for al-Qaeda."

It's day-to-day security and the escalating single-incident, school-related shooting deaths that campus officials tend to neglect, Trump said.

This year alone, there have been 33 school-related shooting deaths nationwide, according to Trump's statistics. Last year, the death toll for school-related shooting deaths was 49 – more than the two previous years combined, he said.

Among the most common security threats schools cited at the workshop: knives and other bladed weapons, gang activity, poor security at athletic events, camera-equipped cell phones and computer hackers.

Schools were urged to limit access to campuses to the fewest possible entry points; restrict access to teacher mailboxes; develop cell-phone policies for students and teachers; and, most important, adopt emergency plans and train staff members and students to implement them.

Elsie Dennis, a trustee from the Surry County School District in Virginia, said her concerns are much more provincial than those expressed by her colleagues yesterday.

"Bullying, that's what I'm concerned about," Dennis said. "And I think our campuses are too open and accessible."

Other trustees in the audience wanted to talk about preventing school shootings, like the one in Minnesota last month.

The attack on the Red Lake Indian Reservation was the nation's worst school shooting since the April 1999 killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where 15 died and 23 were wounded.

In March 2001, freshman Charles "Andy" Williams killed two students and wounded 13 others in a shooting spree at Santana High School in Santee. Later that month, 18-year-old Jason Hoffman opened fire at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, wounding five people before being shot by police.

Columbine prompted schools nationwide to adopt or reassess security policies.

For Bob DeVore, a board member from the McCreary County School District in Kentucky, keeping schools safe during a crisis boils down to one issue – communication.

"No matter how much you do, it's not worth a hill of beans unless you have good communications," he said.

Throughout the education conference, which runs through Tuesday, the nation's school board members will attend more than 300 sessions on a wide range of topics. The childhood obesity epidemic, charter schools and religion in the classroom are among the topics to be discussed. Keynote speakers include former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev today and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

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Maureen Magee: (619) 293-1369; maureen.magee@uniontrib.com

 

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