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Weapons seized in Palm Beach County schools over the past four years

Juvenile DelinquencyJustice SystemHomicide

Three guns were seized on Broward County school campuses over the past week, one used in a homicide, another confiscated from an 8-year-old.

Tuesday, three elementary school pupils were caught with BB guns, two at Miramar Elementary School alone.

Those are among the hundreds of weapons authorities seize from students on South Florida campuses each year. In the last four years alone, police and school officials confiscated nearly 3,000 weapons in Broward and Palm Beach County schools.

In Palm Beach County, 277 weapons were confiscated in the 2007-08 term, a number that has fallen over the past four years. In Broward, during the 2007-08 school year, 503 weapons were seized from students, up from 315 the previous school year.

Seminole Ridge High School in Loxahatchee was the Palm Beach County school with the most weapons seized: 11 in the 2006-07 school year. Benoist Farms, Lantana and Morikami Park elementary schools each had five.

Northeast High School in Oakland Park had the most weapons seized in Broward: 12 in the 2006-07 school year, the last year statistics were broken down by school. Miramar Elementary had eight weapons seized that year.

Hundreds of weapons in schools - officials don't differentiate between guns or knives - alarm educators and parents.

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson said one hurdle in reducing weapons on campus is student reluctance to tell on friends. "That code of silence, and in some cases just outright fear of retaliation, keeps a lot of people from getting involved," he said.

While guns are the main concern, state officials who compile statistics provided by the school districts define weapons as guns, knives, tear gas guns, brass knuckles, or chemical weapons.

A weapon at school led to a tragedy Nov. 12, when Amanda Collette was shot and killed by a single bullet in a Dillard High School hallway. Police charged her longtime friend, Teah Wimberly, with her murder. Both girls were 15, and sophomores in the school's performing arts program. Classmates said Collette had spurned Wimberly's advances.

Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter credits intervention programs such as the Silence Hurts project with convincing students to alert teachers or security officers if they see a weapon. That's what happened during last week's spate of guns on campus - except in Collette's death.

Parents, too, can help keep weapons from school by keeping them secure at home and monitoring what goes into kids' backpacks.

Ginny Walton said weapons on campus can be limited by watchful teachers, such as those at her grandson's school, Tradewinds Middle School in Greenacres. "They are very visible," she said. "They are in the hallways, in the parking lot, on the sidewalks."

Jeanne Jusevic, parent of two Monarch High School students in Broward, theorizes younger students may bring weapons to school just to show off. All students should be reminded that "it doesn't matter if your dad says it's OK to have a BB gun, it's not OK to bring this stuff to school," she said.

Notter said one reason why his district's numbers are up is increased reporting by schools. "We don't want to mask any incidents on our campuses," he said.

Both superintendents consider the use of metal detectors as impractical and ineffective. "It may be symbolic, but that's not educating our children," Notter said.

"I think what we've come to realize is that all the hardware and facilities in the world are not going to prevent someone who is hell-bent on doing a wrong deed from having an opportunity to do that," Johnson said.

School officials and juvenile justice experts blamed what Johnson termed an "outlaw culture" for increased violence in schools and for students' easy acceptance of guns and other weapons.

"We live in a culture where aggression and aggressive behavior is everywhere, it's in video games, it's on TV, it's on the street," said Maria Schneider, the assistant state attorney in charge of the Juvenile Division at the Broward State Attorney's Office.

Lawanda Ravoira, director of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency's Center for Girls and Young Women in Jacksonville, said students usually feel compelled to arm themselves out of fear.

"It's often kids who have been bullied, kids who have been picked on, and this gun, this weapon, gives them a sense of power when they are feeling so powerless," she said.

Schneider said while more weapons may be found on campus, that doesn't necessarily translate into more danger for students. "If you look at statistics across the country," she said, "children are still safer in school than they are on the street."

Robert Nolin can be reached at

rnolin@sunsentinel.com or

954-356-4525.

Weapons incidents in Palm Beach County public schools for the 2006-07 year, page 18A or visit SunSentinel.com/weapons for a breakdown online.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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