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School violence still hot topic

June 09, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - One month after 200 people gathered in a Martinsburg park to express concerns about school safety, the effects of last April's massacre at a Colorado high school are still being felt across the Eastern Panhandle.

West Virginia Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, will hold a follow-up to his May 9 town meeting with a second forum at War Memorial Park on Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss ways to prevent school violence.

The May 9 meeting was called after a May 7 bomb threat emptied 25 schools across Berkeley County and sent 13,000 students home early.

No bombs were found, but a series of copycat calls disrupted classes in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

The most recent bomb threat came Monday when Harpers Ferry Junior High School was cleared for two hours while the school was searched.

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Nothing was found and three students were treated for heat exhaustion after they waited outside in high temperatures while a bomb-sniffing dog searched the school.

Unger said the community needs to take a hard look at the threat of violence in schools and that steps need to be taken toward implementing solutions before the beginning of the next school year.

Citizen committees will be formed Thursday night to address ways to improve safety for children, Unger said.

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., released a 61-point report card he said he hopes will help schools gauge how safe they are for students.

"These report cards give people a chance to evaluate what is already in place in their schools," Wise said. "The first question parents have is, are their children safe?" Wise said.

The checklist is broken down into nine categories, including areas such as parental involvement, the role of alternative schools and steps students can take to prevent violence.

Wise said he is not asking school districts to fill out the report cards and return them to his office but instead wants communities to take a look at what steps they might take to improve school safety.

"These are a starting point. Hopefully people will give me feedback so that I can see what federal assistance I can get to implement some of these things," Wise said.

Wise has already drafted legislation to federally fund toll-free school safety hot lines and is working on passage of a bill that would require 24-hour detention, automatic suspension and mandatory psychological counseling for any student caught with a weapon.

The school safety report cards are being sent to every school district in West Virginia, and Wise said he hopes his fellow lawmakers will send similar checklists to their own congressional districts.

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