Safety on agenda at meeting

Parents, officials talk about preventing violence in schools

Student `avenger' profiled

Strategies include drills, zero tolerance for bomb, gun jokes

May 25, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

About three dozen parents of Centennial High School students joined school officials for a town meeting in Ellicott City last night to air their concerns about school violence and to learn how to spot potentially violent individuals.

Parents heard from a Baltimore psychologist who has profiled the traits of the "classroom avenger" and a Howard County school system security officer whose job it is to prepare for major emergencies such as the shootings last month in Littleton, Colo.

James McGee of Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Baltimore identified the "classroom avenger" as a white male, about 16 years old, who comes from a middle class family in a rural or other small community.

He attends public school, McGee said, is an average to above-average student and doesn't abuse drugs or exhibit particularly rebellious or reckless behavior.

He is also a social outcast -- cast by his peers as a "geek," "nerd" or "loser" -- and his immediate family often has a history of mental illness.

His motive is personal revenge.

"If you have a kid who matches the criteria and has guns at home and makes verbal expressions of intent, it is virtually certain it's going to happen," said McGee, referring to a violent incident at school.

"What you don't have is perfectly normal kids suddenly snapping and committing mass murder."

The aim of last night's meeting, which was sponsored by Centennial's PTSA, was to examine the problems that contributed to the gruesome shootings at Littleton's Columbine High School -- where 15 people, including the two teen-age gunmen, died -- and to learn what steps students, parents and local officials can take to prevent a similar occurrence here.

Shootings in Ga.

Another school shooting made headlines last week. In that incident, a 15-year-old sophomore at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga., has been charged with aggravated assault in the wounding of six fellow students.

McGee said one way to stem school violence is to establish a zero-tolerance policy -- as is the case in the workplace -- under which students who hear other students talking about guns or bombs, or making threats of violent behavior, report such threats immediately.

Another possibility is to establish a student-run anti-violence committee modeled after the group SADD, or Students Against Destructive Decisions, McGee said.

"One of your resources is the other students," McGee said. "That's an untapped resource for fixing this problem."

In most cases, he said the "classroom avenger" talks openly about what he plans to do before doing it.

Steve Drummond, a security officer with the county school system, spoke about countywide school security.

Schools get safety check

In a safety check of all 65 schools conducted last year, Drummond said 35 "semi-major" areas of improvement were identified.

Proposed improvements, which are expected to be funded in this year's budget, he said, included installation of safety gates and increased lighting in student parking lots.

During the past 12 months, Drummond said, the county's schools have become more secure, and principals and their staffs have become better equipped to handle emergencies.

"This whole process of security is a multifaceted process," he said.

Parents get briefing

Principal Lynda Mitic briefed parents on Centennial's emergency plan, which was created last year with Drummond's help.

Mitic said the school administration simulated a crisis in February to test the effectiveness of that plan, and the building was evacuated in less than 10 minutes.

Other panelists included Joan Lane, an assistant principal and chairwoman of the Student Support Team initiative; Samuel Leishure, an instructional leader in the guidance department; and Andy Considine, the school's on-site security guard.

Finding causes for tragedy

At the start of the meeting, PTSA President Barbara Langridge asked the group to identify the underlying causes of the Colorado shootings.

Some faulted parents and teachers for failing to see warning signs in their children.

Others pointed to childrens' alienation, anger and lack of responsibility. Still others criticized television and the media for glamourizing or focusing too much on violence.

Considine said all the problems are rooted in two things: lack of communication and lack of involvement.

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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