Better safe than sorry?; Expect your school to be a more secure place this year; Just for kids


School was probably the last thing on your mind this summer. But school safety has been on the minds of teachers, administrators, school boards, police officials -- even the president.

The school shootings in Littleton, Colo., last spring got folks thinking hard about the threat of violence in schools. Of the schools we called, all of them said they had addressed safety issues in the last few months and made changes. Your school might have made changes like these:

* More locked doors, meaning fewer student and public entrances.

* Additional security or hall monitors.

* Parking-lot patrol.

* Conflict-resolution programs.

* Talks from teachers about reporting suspicious activity.

* New "zero tolerance" regulations for harassment.

Besides schools, other groups have been busy:

* State school boards. The Illinois State Board of Education, for example, has asked schools to do security audits and develop safety plans.

* Many states also have initiated anonymous tip-lines, which students can call to report threats of violence or weapons violations on school grounds.

* The federal government. President Clinton directed the departments of education and justice to develop a school-safety guide. The guide, "Early Warning, Timely Response," says safe schools have communities with these characteristics:

* A focus on academic achievement.

* Involved families.

* Positive relationships between students and staff.

* Open talks about safety.

* Equal respect for all.

* Ways for students to express concerns.

* A system for referring neglected or abused children.

* Promotion of good citizenship and character.

A complete federal guide is available at guidetext.htm.

By now you're probably wondering if school will seem like a prison this year. Are administrators balancing your need for security with your right to privacy? "No matter what we do, we try to keep that in our minds," said Robert Johnson, principal at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Ill.

"Metal detectors, I think that's going too far, or ID around your neck, that's crossing the line," said Erin S., a 15-year-old suburban Chicago high school student. She thinks there are other ways to prevent problems. "If they see suspicious kids, or see kids who have Web sites (with hate messages), check those things out earlier instead of waiting for things to happen."

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