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Bush administration hopes idea-sharing will help quell school violence

Ben Feller, Canadian Press | October 11 2006

Encouraging school kids to be informants when necessary may be one way to stop violence before it erupts, a summit called by President George W. Bush was told Tuesday.

"Our first line of prevention is really having good intelligence," Delbert Elliott, director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence in Boulder, Colo., told participants in a conference called by the Bush administration in the wake of a spate of recent shootings in schools.

Because kids who plot violence often boast about it, said Elliott, schools must create a culture that encourages students to come forward with tips.

Opening the conference earlier, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said it is crucial that school systems have a crisis-response plan.

"All of us who are parents know it's frightening," she said. Three shooting rampages in two weeks have jarred the nation, and communities in Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are still grieving.

Spellings said it is time for people to reflect and make sure their school has a response plan for crises - and that "every single person who needs to know is aware of what the plan is."

Bush is expected to offer sympathy at the event, being held in a Maryland suburb, and to encourage people to ask questions at home about whether their schools are prepared for emergencies.

Four weeks before the mid-term elections, the event allows Bush to return to the politically safe issue of education and child safety. But the federal role in making schools safer is limited because education remains mainly a local matter. The White House chose to host a national sharing of ideas, hoping to seize a moment when people are focused on preventing violence.

Fred Wegener, a Park County, Colo., sheriff who joined a discussion led by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, described responding two weeks ago when a man held several girls hostage in a school before killing one and himself.

The school had just practised an emergency lockdown in August. Students said after the shooting that they had seen the intruder, but assumed he was the parent of a classmate.

"I still think we had a safe school," Wegener said. "I think it is just one of those times when an individual was able to get in."

His story drew the room silent. "We're not supposed to lose our kids at school," he said.

No new policies are expected; strategies for keeping schools safe are widely known. But experts say schools often don't get serious about safety until shootings make headlines.

Other speakers will include Craig Scott, who survived the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Student gunmen killed his sister and 12 others.

About 300 people are attending the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase.

"Bringing people together to talk about what's working - that can't hurt," said William Lassiter, manager of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence in Raleigh, N.C.

"I think schools have gotten back into a comfort zone again," Lassiter said. "I'm not saying we should put barbed wire up around schools or take other drastic measures. What we really need to look at is basic safety steps you would take at your own house."

Lassiter also questioned the Bush's administration's attempt to cut $347 million in school-safety grants for states this year.

The White House says that beyond those state grants, the government spends larger amounts on successful school safety programs through its education, justice and health agencies.

Meanwhile, there is no pattern to deadly shootings at schools.

In the 2005-06 school year, 15 people were killed in school-related shootings, said Kenneth Trump, a national school safety expert who tracks violence data.

In the period from 1992 to 2002, 462 students and adults died at school by homicide or suicide, according to the latest government figures. Most of those killed were children.

In the last two weeks, a gunman killed himself and five girls at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, and a 15-year-old Wisconsin student shot and killed his principal.


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