School violence is a ticking bomb that must be defused, says South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon.
Though the Palmetto State has escaped the tragic violence like that which erupted in Littleton, Colo., people fear that it could happen anytime, anywhere.
For that reason, Mr. Condon, Gov. Jim Hodges and state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum put partisanship aside Monday to spearhead a new school safety task force.
The first meeting of the group -- including law enforcement officers, family court judges, teachers and state agency representatives -- is June 9. Members of the task force will be named within two weeks by Mr. Hodges.
"Certainly, on this issue, politics stops at the schoolhouse door," said Mr. Condon, a Republican. "The mindless mayhem and mass murder committed by gangs and other juveniles all over this nation is unconscionable and unacceptable. Every fiber in our being must be committed to bringing this senseless violence to a screeching halt."
Overall, school fatalities have declined since 1992. Even with the 15 deaths in the Colorado massacre at Columbine High School, this year's total of 24 homicides and suicides is well below last year's 43, when the shootings at Jonesboro, Ark., Edinboro, Pa., and Springfield, Ore., pushed the numbers higher.
Despite the national decline, crime in South Carolina schools remain high. The latest statistics from Mr. Condon's office show that 9,000 school crimes were documented in 1998.
Of those, 2,500 were considered serious offenses such as assault, criminal misconduct and drug possession.
Mr. Condon has devoted months to studying programs and proposals to combat school violence. And from those he developed five specific ideas, four of which require legislative approval. His proposals are:
Anyone who violates laws that pertain to selling firearms to minors should receive a mandatory one-year prison sentence.
Students who bring guns or other dangerous devices to school should be detained and subject to a court-ordered psychological evaluation before being released.
Current laws should be changed so that teachers are notified when students are arrested for violent crimes.
Parents should be required to attend judicial proceedings against their children and participate in court orders. If they fail to do so, current law should be enforced to require parents to pay court costs and the cost of incarceration.
In the meantime, a toll-free tip line, (877) SEE-A-GUN, has been established so students may report classmates who bring guns or explosives to campus. Those whose tips lead to confiscation receive $100.
And the governor has asked the General Assembly for $14 million to place at least one officer in each of South Carolina's middle and high schools. Currently, there are 170 school safety officers serving 33 counties. The House has approved the measure already.