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Westridge gathers panel to discuss safety in schools

Reporting strange behavior is key

The Kansas City Star

Apr. 30, 2005 - The 85 students who questioned panelists about security measures in schools might have hoped to hear that see-through lockers or high-tech camera equipment was the answer to school shootings.

Instead, panelists said it's all about students alerting adults to strange or scary behavior in fellow students.

“Cameras are a fine part of the puzzle,” Dennis McCarthy, one of the panelists, said. “But it's better to be able to identify, assess and defuse the problem.”

Around 85 seventh- and eighth-grade students in the Westridge Middle School gifted program gathered Wednesday to learn more about their 2005 debate topic: The Shawnee Mission School District should increase the use of technology to better ensure student safety.

The five panelists were local experts in the security field, including Mike Betton, an Overland Park Police officer with the Community Policing Unit, Byron Cerrillo, chief attorney for the Johnson County Public Defender's Office, William Empson, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Melissa Lee, with the Jones Store safety and security department and McCarthy, director of safety and security for Blue Valley Schools.

The panelists were there to provide another information resource to the students, 12 of whom will have a debate on the topic with Indian Woods students on May 11.

The panelists agreed that while cameras might be a psychological deterrent at first, in time people often forget they're in place. When that happens, cameras do little to stop dangerous behavior from occurring.

“It's better to be proactive and catch the kids who are ready to snap,” said McCarthy, who before taking a position with Blue Valley Schools, was a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service for 30 years.

Cerrillo gave students insight on their Fourth Amendment rights and the legality of security devices regarding privacy issues while Lee talked about the security devices used in the retail world.

Betton told students since the Columbine shootings, local police have responded by placing Resource Officers in schools to provide on-site response to problems.

He said making problem areas more visible and possibly placing cameras in the biggest problem areas were other ways he suggested cutting down on criminal activities in schools.

Vonda Morris, gifted education specialist with Shawnee Mission schools, said she thought the students did an excellent job of asking questions.

“They showed they were informed but also excited, inquisitive and interest in the topic,” she said. “They were interested in the experience and background of the speakers and recognized that there were differing opinions within the panel, which is what we wanted.”

To reach Edie Hall, call (816) 234-7725 or e-mail


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