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Despite safety emphasis, school shootings continue

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WASHINGTON — There’s been no real reduction in the number of U.S. school shootings despite increased security put in place after the rampage at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

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A Sparks Middle School student is comforted as he cries after being released from Agnes Risley Elementary School, where some students were evacuated after a shooting, in Sparks, Nev.  Kevin Clifford/Associated Press
Kevin Clifford/Associated Press
A Sparks Middle School student is comforted as he cries after being released from Agnes Risley Elementary School, where some students were evacuated after a shooting, in Sparks, Nev.

In Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee and elsewhere, gunfire has echoed through school hallways and killed students or their teachers in some cases.

“Lockdown” is now part of the school vocabulary.

An Associated Press analysis finds that there have been at least 11 school shootings this academic year alone, in addition to other cases of gun violence, in school parking lots and elsewhere on campus, when classes were not in session.

Last August, for example, a gun discharged in a 5-year-old’s backpack while students were waiting for the opening bell in the cafeteria at Westside Elementary School in Memphis. No one was hurt.

Experts say the rate of school shootings is statistically unchanged since the mid- to late 1990s, yet still remains troubling.

Ronald Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safety Center, said there have been about 500 school-associated violent deaths in the past 20 years.

The numbers don’t include a string of recent shootings at colleges and universities.

Finding factors to blame, rightfully or not, is almost the easy part: bad parenting, easy access to guns, less value for the sanctity of life, violent video games, a broken mental health system.

Stopping the violence isn’t.

“I think that’s one of the major problems. There are not easy answers,” Stephens said. “A line I often use is do everything you can, knowing you can’t do everything.”

Bill Bond, who was principal at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., in 1997 when a 14-year-old freshman fired on a prayer group, killing three students and wounding five, sees few differences in how shootings are carried out today. The one consistency, he said, is that the shooters are males confronting hopelessness.

“You see troubled young men who are desperate and they strike out and they don’t see that they have any hope,” Bond said.

Schools generally are much safer than they were five, 10 or 15 years ago, Stephens said. While a single death is one too many, he noted that perspective is important. In Chicago there were 500 homicides in 2012, about the same number in the nation’s 132,000-plus K-12 schools over 20 years.

“I believe schools are much safer than they used to be but clearly they still have a good ways to go,” Stephens said.

The recent budget deal in Congress provides $140 million to support safe school environments and is a $29 million increase, according to the office of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

About 90 percent of districts have tightened security since the Newtown shootings, estimates Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Many schools now have elaborate school safety plans and more metal detectors, surveillance cameras and fences. They’ve taken other steps, too, such as requiring ID badges and dress codes. Similar to fire drills, some schools practice locking down classrooms, among their responses to potential violence.

The incident involving the 5-year-old in Memphis led to the use of hand-held metal detecting wands inside elementary schools in Shelby County’s school district.

Attention also has focused on hiring school resource officers, sworn law enforcement officers who are trained to work in a school environment, said Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. He said his organization estimates there are about 10,000 of them in the U.S.

Canady said such an officer helped avert more bloodshed at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., when an 18-year-old student took a shotgun into the building Dec. 13 and fatally shot another student.

Since the shootings at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, in which two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 26 others before killing themselves, police nationwide have adopted “active shooter” policies where officers are trained to confront a shooter immediately.

“The goal is to stop it, from the law enforcement side, stop it as quickly as you can because we know with an active shooter if you don’t stop it, more lives will be lost,” Canady said.

Confronting a shooter certainly carries risks.

In Sparks, Nev., math teacher Michael Landsberry was killed in November after calmly approaching a 12-year-old with a gun and asking him to put the weapon down, witnesses said. The boy, who had wounded two classmates, killed himself.

Weingarten said more emphasis needs to be placed on improving school cultures by ensuring schools have resources for counselors, social workers and after-care programs. Many of these kinds of programs were scaled back during budget cuts of recent years.

Experts have said a healthy school culture can prevent such incidents and even lead students to tell adults about classmates who display warning signs that they could commit such violence.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Thursday that he also believes strong mental health support systems in schools are important. But he said schools are doing a “fantastic” job with school security and that often schools are the safest place in a community.

He blames easy access to guns as a root cause of the problem, but that’s a contention that doesn’t have widespread agreement as gun control continues to be a hotly debated topic.

“This is a societal problem, it’s not a school problem,” Duncan said.

Bond, who is now the safe schools specialist with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said there was a time when he believed school shootings would stop. He has come to a sad realization that gives him a “sick pit in my stomach” that they won’t end, he said.

“Schools are still part of the American society and the American society is violent,” Bond said.

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myfather15
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myfather15 02/03/14 - 07:04 am
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"The one consistency, he

"The one consistency, he said, is that the shooters are males confronting hopelessness.

“You see troubled young men who are desperate and they strike out and they don’t see that they have any hope,” Bond said."

We keep "trying" and "trying" to come up with ways to reduce shootings!! Instead of throwing more and more money at the problem, why not go back to the basics, roots, foundation? Why not allow prayer back in schools? Don't force anyone to, but allow them too if they choose!! Stop forcing God out of everything!! Put that HOPE, back in school!!

The bottom line is that God created our very souls, our spirits!! Subconsciously, our spirit yearns for HIS SPIRIT!!! Without his spirit, there is a void within ourselves!! Our youth today are trying to fill a deep void they just can't seem to fill!! When they can't fill it, they lose hope!!

The problem is a void created by seperation from the creator of our souls!! The government is legislating Him out of our youths lives. Then they want to throw money at the problem, thinking that will fix it!! You ARE going find out this will NOT work!! You can't replace God with money!!!

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/03/14 - 09:01 am
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I 100% agree with this..

"This is a societal problem, it’s not a school problem,” Duncan said."

I luv Augusta...btw.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 02/03/14 - 09:33 am
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Baseline

From the story:

Experts say the rate of school shootings is statistically unchanged since the mid- to late 1990s. . . .

Well, then we must conclude that the rate remains steady and is not going up. Therefore, we are experiencing natural background. It would be a waste of money to try to lower the rate of school shootings below the natural background. It would be like trying to lower the rate of natural background radioactivity. It would be like trying to lower the rate of natural background prostate cancer. Our school security spending has reached a point of diminishing returns.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 02/03/14 - 09:38 am
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Harden the Entrances

From the story:

About 90 percent of districts have tightened security since the Newtown shootings, estimates Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Not here in the CSRA, they haven't. A visitor can walk right in the front door of just about every school in the area with no questions.

If a school is not going to harden its entrances, lock every door, make every student pass through a metal detector every day, make every visitor be stopped at a locked door, identify himself, be subject to frisking, and be escorted — then that school has not increased security.

corgimom
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corgimom 02/03/14 - 10:53 am
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If somebody really wants to

If somebody really wants to shoot people in a school, they will. Look at Sandy Hook- the shooter shot open a locked door.

Because of fire safety regulations, schools have doors everywhere. If somebody wants to get into a school, they will.

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