Something's got to be done about school violence

Posted on April 29, 1999 at 21:34:27:

Moments after the Colorado police investigating the deaths of the shooting victims at Columbine High School released the photos of the 14 dead students and the teacher, they appeared on the Internet. I took a moment to look at each face as one flashed onto the screen for a few seconds then another and another. Fresh-faced teenagers, smiling, happy. What were they striving to be when they grew up? Doctors, lawyers, public officials? Police officers? Firefighters? Caregivers?

None of it was to be. Two deranged young men with nothing but hate in their minds ended the lives of some fine young people leaving parents and friends behind to mourn this most senseless tragedy.

This has got to stop. First the rash of students killing fellow students last year in Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky and now this unimaginable horror.

A lot of blame is being aimed at the parents of the suspected gunmen, the Columbine School administrators, guidance counselors and teachers and the local police. Blame is an obvious human reaction to extraordinary tragedy, but it doesn't help make the situation better. It just makes people more bitter and resentful and nothing positive comes out of the tragedy. Just ill will and ugly lawsuits.

No, the time to blame is over. The time to find a solution to control violence of this nature as well as violence of lesser extents in school needs to be seriously examined. We can talk all we want about more gun control measures. But I can promise you that the "left" will introduce legislation and the "right" will kill it and we'll be back at square one. The problem won't be addressed.

As some of you may know, I recently asked Governor Glendening to convene a task force to look into the problem of school violence. Thank goodness we haven't had an incident as bad as the Columbine massacres, but virtually every day in Maryland schools we have incidents of violence be they fights, stabbings or even threatening words aimed at a fellow student or a teacher. Could this be a sign that something even more terrible could be on its way.

Last week, Washington D.C. and Montgomery County schools altered their class schedules because of bomb threats. In such tense times in our schools, administrators made the right choice to evacuate their schools. After something of the magnitude that happened at Columbine, police fear copycats who are mesmerized by the incredible press something like this recent tragedy has inspired. It's all you see on the news.

This is the right time to look into the issue of school violence since school will be out shortly. The summer would be the perfect time for our school administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, school board members, students, parents and police to get together to discuss the issue of school violence. They can look back on the past year and evaluate incidents of violence or potentially violent situations that occured and give their input on how the problem developed and how it was handled.

Since these are the people most intimitely involved in the day-to-day operations of the school, they are the ones who need to sit down in a retreat-like summit and come up with some ideas how to stop the carnage in our schools.

Counselors and administrators can better identify warning signals. Students can help give them a better guage of what they believe are real warning signals and what they believe are kids doing crazy things just to get attention. The police are experts at monitoring potentially criminal behavior. They can brief the task force on how to better observe such behavior. Parents need to know that their role in the schools must be enhanced. They need to know that sending their children off to school for discipline is not enough. Teachers and administrators can't give children all the discipline and guidence in life. The parents have to do their part too. We're all in this together and we all need to pitch in to help. I don't have all the answers, but I'm willing to listen to some potential solutions this task force could come up with.

Last year, President Clinton held a White House Conference on school violence. I have read much of the report that came out of the conference and it is somewhat informative if a bit long-winded. The task force I envision is one in which the members hunker down and work hard to come up with possible solutions to stop this wave of violence in schools. Parents shouldn't have to sit at their jobs or homes wondering if their children are going to be safe at school.

As an addendum to President Clinton's conference, U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, one of the great Senators of our times, has called for a national task force similar to the one I have asked the governor to create. I urge all of you to write the governor and request that he convene this task force.

Clearly, I am of the opinion that if a student is determined to wreak havoc, they're going to do it, the law notwithstanding. I want that opinion to change. I'm sure you do too.

The governor's address is: State House, 100 State Circle, Annapolis, MD 21401.

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