Search for safety – Administrators say school policies are adequate
After two heavily armed Colorado high school students wreaked havoc at Columbine High School in 1999 and killed more than a dozen people, school administrators across America began working on strategies to prevent that carnage from occurring again.
That did not prevent another horrific attack at a Minnesota school this week.
But despite the recent high-profile shooting, western Nevada County schools feel they’ve done as much as possible to avoid eruptions of violence. With security guards, lockdown policies and a quick response to bullying, school officials hope they can both prevent student tensions from boiling over and react quickly if faced with the unexpected.
Several students interviewed by The Union said they are not concerned that school violence could make its way into the halls of Nevada County.
“It is not my main priority to protect myself from someone with a gun,” 18-year-old Nevada Union High School senior Brian Greco said.
Despite common perceptions of school violence being at an all-time high, the early 1990s were the years when such violence peaked, according to the National School Safety Center.
Homicides in American schools reached 42 in both 1993 and 1994. During the 2002-03 school year, four homicides were reported nationwide, according to the safety center.
“I don’t feel threatened by anyone at this school,” 18-year-old Nevada Union senior Jessica Hollstien said. “This town is a great town to grow up in.”
What’s in place
At Nevada Union High School, the largest school in the county, administrators said that while they were alarmed about what happened in Minnesota, they are not planning to make changes to their policy.
“What we have in place works well,” said the school’s resource officer and Nevada County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Davenport. “We have had training for these situations. Our first priority is to go to where the threat is – neutralize it or eliminate it.”
Nevada Union also has three private security guards who are on campus most of the time.
“They are here every day interacting with students just like I do,” Davenport said. “The more we interact with students, the more comfortable we feel about what they are doing.”
Nevada Union Assistant Principal Bruce Kinseth said the school’s lockdown policy includes closing and locking the doors, lowering blinds and turning off lights, so that a shooter would not go into a classroom.
“Teachers have been instructed not to open the doors for anyone until we get the OK from law enforcement,” he said.
Hoping to prevent a tragedy like the one in Minnesota from happening locally, Kinseth and Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Maggie Deetz said teachers at Nevada Union, Bear River High School and Park Avenue Alternative School have been trained to deal with harassment in the classroom. All freshmen at Nevada Union are assigned a junior or senior student to help adjust to life in school and cope with stress.
“We try to deal with bullying immediately,” he said. “Either (students) get it, or we escalate the discipline.”
Still, Kinseth said he does not know of anything that will put an end to school violence.
“All we can do is prepare and try to avoid this situation,” he said.
The National School Safety Center created a checklist of characteristics of potentially violent youth, such as a history of disciplinary problems, using abusive language and making violent threats, being occupied with weapons and explosives, or being bullied by other students.
School administrators now try to spot such characteristics at an early age and halt the pattern.
At Lyman Gilmore Middle School, Principal Stephanie Pope said the school has employed an anti-bullying curriculum that all students are required to take.
“Kids are aware that life has changed (since the 1990s) and we don’t take things lightly anymore,” Pope said. “We had two bomb threats last year. We caught the kids with the help of other kids. They were expelled for the school year.”
Pope said her school has a safety plan that is reviewed regularly, but just like Nevada Union, no additional precautions have been planned after the most recent school attack.
She said she would have to think long and hard before considering installing metal detectors in her school, and, like Kinseth, believes there is no one answer to preventing a disaster from happening locally.
“The closest answer is communication,” she said. “Students, parents and teachers have to work together. Kids who have stress should know that there is another way out and that they can come to us.”
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