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Byrd says peace starts in the home

June 06, 1999

Sen. ByrdBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - On the eve of his return to a legislative session in which school violence is expected to take center stage, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd said his fellow lawmakers are overlooking an important point in the issue.

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"Children must be taught to obey and respect authority - laws can't do that. Discipline has to be taught in the home," Byrd said Sunday.

The West Virginia Democrat was in Shepherdstown to deliver a graduation speech to almost 400 Jefferson High School seniors in the Butcher Center at Shepherd College.

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With Congress set to return to work today from its Memorial Day recess, Byrd said teaching discipline to children will go further than creating laws.

The gun and entertainment industries have drawn fire from many legislators in the wake of the April killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., said last week he plans to release a school safety "report card" sometime this week that he hopes will help communities make schools safer for students.

The report will list "safe school" elements that include early intervention programs and the relationship between schools and police officers, Wise said.

A key element not being addressed in the Washington debate is the need for parents to teach their children discipline, Byrd said.

"It needs to start in the home," he said. "Without (discipline) they're going to miss it later."

School size is another issue that needs to be examined, Byrd said.

"A lot of schools are too big. Smaller schools are more conducive to better relationships," Byrd said.

Large schools are more conducive to gangs and hate groups, while smaller schools allow students to receive more attention, Byrd said.

Clutching a Bible from which he quoted several scriptures, Byrd talked for about 30 minutes about the importance of education, spirituality and character.

Byrd said he made a "serious mistake" years ago when he joined a branch of the Ku Klux Klan in southern West Virginia.

The 81-year-old lawmaker has acknowledged his membership in the group more than 50 years ago, but the issue resurfaced during the presidential impeachment hearings.

One of the few Democrats who favored Clinton's impeachment, Byrd was called a hypocrite after he criticized the President's actions.

"One single mistake can last you a lifetime," Byrd told the Jefferson High School graduates.

Byrd also told students to read good books and put away television sets that can be media for "filth and violence."

Sunday's commencement speech was something of a rarity for Byrd, whose own graduation ceremony was 65 years ago.

"This is the first one I've done in awhile," he said.

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