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Our view: Ending school turmoil is up to the community

May 10, 1999

Sunday's town meeting in Martinsburg's War Memorial Park was a good first step toward ending the turmoil that emptied 25 Berkeley County schools of 13,000 students on Friday. The session was organized by state Sen. John Unger, who said that calming students' fears and ending the bomb threats and rumor-mongering depends, to a great extent, on what the community does.

That means parents must emphasize to their children that even joking about guns and bombs is unacceptable, and backing up school officials if their child is caught making a threat. Attempts to explain away these kinds of remarks as childish humor are misguided, for two reasons.

Children need to know that their actions have consequences and that speech that puts people in fear of their lives is not only not funny, but is a crime as well.

As for the school system, all schools need to be equipped with Caller ID devices, and tape-recorders, to make it easier to locate and prosecute anyone calling in a bomb threat. The alternative is doing what the system did Friday and sending 13,000 students home. The system also needs a more orderly evacuation plan, and a hotline parents can call for information.

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All of these things will add to the school system's costs and it would help if some local industries or parent-teacher groups could kick in some funding to put them in place over the summer. Proposals to have additional parents volunteer in the schools are also welcome, but those folks need training in what to do, if, for example, a student passes along information about another child with a weapon.

Finally, the community and the system need to look at some positive activities to engage students' imagination when school resumes in the fall. Maybe it will be a food drive for the area's needy, or the collection of relief supplies for the Kosovar Albanian refugees, but it should be something that reminds students that as bad as adolescence may seem on some days, there are others who are worse off, others who need help from the community and the world.

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