School system 'action team' prepares to handle violence Crisis-response plans, prevention discussed

July 12, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Responding to a series of shootings at schools nationwide, the Howard County School system has formed an "action team" on violence to reach students who are in crisis and help schools respond appropriately if violence does erupt.

The initiative follows a national movement after fatal shootings in Oregon, Pennsylvania and Arkansas.

"In all of the cases of these shootings, somebody knew about it in advance and they didn't take it seriously or they didn't know what to do," Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said. "We need that kind of educational process so that people are much more sensitive and know when a child or a young person is giving off clues that he or she is about to explode."

Hickey said he hopes to have such an educational program in place "very early in the school year."

Locally and nationally, schools are studying ways to prevent or respond to violence. In Baltimore County, Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione recently appointed a committee to examine how that district deals with serious threats and weapons-related violence.

"An increasing number of school districts are developing crisis-response plans and safe-school plans," said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif. "The entire landscape of student management and supervision is changing in our schools across the country as we've [moved] from fistfights to gunfights."

Hickey said the team, which is expanding from its original six members, has a multitiered goal: First, the school system needs to be able to identify the potential for violence in a troubled child and intervene if necessary; second, should there be an incident, the people involved need to know how to respond, he said.

"We don't have anything that says, 'What do you do if somebody walks into your lunchroom with a loaded gun and opens fire?' " Hickey said. "We need to figure out some sort of plan or some sort of process [so] that once it does happen, you have a way of minimizing the loss of life or injury."

Howard County already has programs to deal with disruptive students, including evening and Saturday school. And though the school system has not experienced anything on the scale of the shootings in other states, administrators say they want to keep it that way.

"I'm sure that the other districts where this happened thought their schools were safe, too," said Patti Caplan, public information officer for Howard County schools. "What you have to do is have some general guidelines in place."

Stephens agreed that such incidents require "a heightened level of training and preparation" on the part of administrators.

"It's one thing to referee a fistfight," he said. "It's something else to referee a gunfight."

'Community challenge'

Most of the safety plans being formed nationwide take a common-sense approach, Stephens said. They include everything from minimizing the number of school entrances and exits to training school staff to better identify and help troubled students. Schools also are creating closer partnerships with local law enforcement and agencies that serve young people.

"The schools are realizing that creating a safe school is not just a school problem, but a community challenge," he said.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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