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Schools issue cell phones as precaution

May 04, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Every school administrator now has a cellular telephone in one of the Washington County Board of Education's latest attempts to ensure system-wide safety.

In a presentation to the School Board, Executive Director of Support Services William McKinley discussed precautions recently taken to maintain security as well as allay student and parent fears.

The violence associated with the Littleton, Colo., shooting April 20 created a heightened vigilance in schools, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Theresa Flak said.

"The senselessness of these dramatic events has led all of us to reassess where we are in preventing school violence," she said.

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Each high school principal already had a cell phone, but on April 30 the School Board ordered 53 more for the other vice principals and principals, McKinley said.

The School Board established an emergency information line April 28. The answering system at 766-8700 has received 60 calls, mostly from parents according to McKinley.

"In most cases, they were giving information that might help us," he said.

Police presence has also increased at schools. "We have had extremely good coverage," McKinley said.

Building checks previously done often are now performed constantly, he said. On Monday, 24 retired administrators were on hand in the schools.

Although there have been rumors, there have been no guns, bombs, weapons or destructive devices, McKinley said. "We thank everyone who has helped. We believe our schools are safe."

Violence is a societal problem, not just a school issue, Flak said. She referred to a National School Safety Center at Pepperdine University study, saying, "You cannot have islands of safety in a sea of communities of violence."

She said schools are the safest place for students to be. Each year, 3,000 American children die of handgun wounds but 1 percent of those occur in schools, she said. The rest happen at home or in the streets.

The likelihood of becoming the victim of a school-associated violent death is one in a million, she said. The media is to blame for an overblown picture of the problem, according to Flak.

While school-related shooting deaths declined 30 percent last year, reporting of them increased 700 percent, she said. "People need to look past the sensationalism of the media to see the true picture."

School Board members said they are confident that local schools are safe. President Edwin Hayes said the fear will dissipate. "Crises will sometimes divide a community. In this instance it has drawn us together," said Doris J. Nipps.

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