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W.Va. forum takes on school violence

July 14, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Violence in the schools can't be solved by school or law enforcement officials alone, according to speakers at a public hearing here Monday.

--cont from news--

It's going to take a community-wide effort, including a broad-based change in adult behavior, and government funding for needed facilities, professionals and training, said speaker after speaker at the hearing on school violence at Reynolds Hall on the Shepherd College campus.

"The violence we are seeing from our young folks is really a reflection of what we're seeing in our society. Adults are modeling behavior," said Jefferson County Schools Superintendent David Markoe.

More than 60 people - representing local school systems, law enforcement agencies, the court system, churches and community groups - attended the hearing, the third in a series U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., has scheduled to explore the problem of school violence.

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About a dozen people volunteered to share their views on the causes of violence, information on what their groups are doing about the problem or ideas about what should be done to combat it.

Last month, Wise proposed federal legislation that would encourage states to pass laws requiring law enforcement authorities to hold students who bring guns to school for up to 72 hours for psychological evaluation.

Before the next school year starts, he said, he intends to put together a report on the hearings along with recommendations on how communities can make their schools safer.

"When you think about it, we as a society have become more violent," said Markoe, citing the number of stories about violence in local newspapers and the three top movies at the box office last weekend - "Lethal Weapon 4," "Armageddon" and Small Soldiers."

The problem really needs to be dealt with from a societal perspective, he said. Society needs to be more tolerant, respectful and caring, he said.

The forum comes after a series of deadly shootings by students at schools across the country in recent months.

Two pupils were killed in an October 1997 incident in Pearl, Miss., and four students and a teacher were slain in December 1997 in West Paducah, Ky. Two students were killed by a 15-year-old in May in Springfield, Ore.

One plan of action




Maintaining a safe environment in the schools was included in the five goals Jefferson County Schools recently passed, Markoe said.

Its plan of action includes rewriting the discipline code for consistency in all the schools and implementing a character education program - both based on building students' expectations of themselves, he said.

Law enforcement and emergency services personnel have been crucial in Berkeley County's efforts to deal with school violence since 1995, said Jim Holland, principal at Bedington Elementary School.

Standard procedures for dealing with various scenarios were incorporated into a systemwide emergency procedures reference guide, Holland said.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Michael Thompson blamed West Virginia's "cumbersome, outdated" juvenile justice system for part of the problem. With all of the state's juvenile detention centers and its industrial school filled, there's nowhere to put young offenders, he said.

As of Friday, the Eastern Panhandle facility was three children over capacity, he said.

There won't be any openings at the 114-bed industrial school in Salem, W.Va., until Nov. 13 for a boy and Jan. 13, 1999, for a girl, Thompson said.

The state has only six beds for mentally ill children, he said.

Despite the need, the Legislature has refused to fund building projects to handle the swelling juvenile population, Thompson said.

'New breed of kids'




"Justice should be swift if there's going to be any fear on the part of the children," he said. "Justice is not swift."

Many juveniles caught in wrongdoing have a "so what" attitude about their actions, said West Virginia State Police Sgt. Scott Paugh.

"A lot of students just don't seem to realize the consequence of their actions. I'm at a loss for where that comes from," Paugh said.

"We're seeing a new breed of kids, children without a conscience. They don't seem to have any connection with what's morally right," said Eleanor Grubbs, who represented the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals.

Legislators can mandate attacks on the problem, but it won't be solved until money is available to fund solutions, Grubbs said.

For example, teachers needs lots of crisis intervention training, she said.

More training for school employees was among a list of recommendations read by Tom Lange, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

Others recommendations included:




-- Developing and implementing emergency plans.

-- Maintaining low class sizes.

-- Having an adequate number of school counselors and attendance officers.

-- Setting up a hotline for students to report violent peers without fear of retribution.

-- Using early intervention programs and expanding conflict resolution programs.

Kearneysville resident Manieka Green, who graduated from Jefferson High School this spring, came to talk about her school's successful peer mediation program.

After she finished, Wise asked for her thoughts on other tactics for dealing with school violence.

The most important element is open communication among parents, students and teachers, Green said.

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