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Violence at issue in conference

July 27, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - School officials and lawmakers Monday tried to find answers to a streak of school violence earlier this year that ranged from the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., to a number of bomb threats in Tri-State area schools.

Officials wrestled with the issue at the 14th annual Quad-State Conference at the Holiday Inn, sometimes ending up with contradicting conclusions.

The Quad-State Conference is held every year to give lawmakers in the region a chance to discuss issues common to communities along the Interstate 81 corridor from Virginia to Pennsylvania.

At least one school in the Tri-State area - Jefferson High near Charles Town, W.Va. - has decided to put a police officer in its facility to control discipline problems, and Virginia strongly believes in the use of police officers in schools to control any problems, said Donna Wells, assistant secretary of public safety in Virginia.

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But Gary Deem said bringing armed officers or the occasional motivational speaker into a school is not enough to correct behavior problems.

The attempt to identify kids with behavior problems takes a commitment from the entire community, and must include social services, mental health agencies, courts, substance abuse programs, churches, and other community organizations, said Deem, founder of the Association for Adolescent Understanding in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Deem said only 15 percent of the current school population is responsible for behavior problems, and those students can be identified.

"We need to get back to the idea of prevention. That's what a lot of us are missing," said Deem, whose wife teaches at Boonsboro Middle School.

But an official with the Maryland State Department of Education said troubled kids are hard to identify.

They are often alienated from everybody, including their friends and family, making it hard to connect with them, said Lynn Linde, chief of the Pupil Services Branch of the Maryland Department of Education.

Since last year's troubling school season, Linde said she has been flooded with offers from private companies wanting to bring bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors into schools.

But Linde said she does not believe those efforts create the right environment for schools.

Wells said community involvement is necessary to reduce the violence.

"The need out there is so great that we cannot depend on law enforcement alone," Wells said.

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