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Preventive efforts pay off at Hancock school

May 03, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

HANCOCK - While some schools in Washington County had virtually empty classrooms and halls on Monday, the Hancock Middle-High School was bustling with activity.

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The school had only a 10 percent absentee rate, despite weeks of countywide rumors of violence planned for May 3, according to Principal Robert T. "Bo" Myers.

However, Donna Messina, spokeswoman for Washington County Schools, calculated Hancock's absentee rate at 11 percent to 12 percent.

She said North Hagerstown High School had the highest rate of students out at 46 percent, followed by South Hagerstown High School at 31 percent on Monday.

Hancock's normal absentee rate for its 305 students is 4 percent to 5 percent, said Myers.

He attributes his high rate of student attendance on May 3 and throughout the year to established trust and open lines of communication between students, parents and school personnel.

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The bomb threats and other rumors going on at county schools in the wake of the Littleton, Colo., shootings haven't been happening in Hancock, he said.

"We have had a few isolated incidents of inappropriate comments but that's all," he said.

He said those students were punished appropriately.

Any negative significance to May 3 was downplayed at Hancock, Myers said.

"We didn't make a big deal about it. We were in regular mode," he said.

Myers said he met with students in each classroom to discuss the Littleton tragedy last month and sent a letter home to parents.

In the letter he explained Hancock's policy on school visitors. He also volunteered to help resolve some family conflicts, he said.

He urged parents to "work with your children to seek nonviolent solutions to problems."

Myers said the calm atmosphere at Hancock also is a result of a good relationship with local police.

He said Hancock Police officers visit the school on a regular basis. He said they act not only as a deterrent to misbehavior but also as role models by talking with students and eating lunch in the cafeteria.

The town's police Explorer Post also provides a way for young people to become comfortable with area law enforcement, he said.

Hancock Police Chief Donald Gossage said he and his officers also conduct patrols through the school's parking lot each day.

Gossage said students at Hancock were already familiar with police being on their campus long before the Hagerstown City Police, The Washington County Sheriff's Department and the Maryland State Police decided to put officers in county schools this week.

Gossage said Hancock has the same types of problems that other schools have, but are able to keep incidents to a minimum through cooperation.

"A good partnership (between school officials and law enforcement) helps keep violence down," he said.

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