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Let's make this school year a happy and safe one for all

August 18, 1999

As students all over the Tri-State area prepare to return to school, there's more than the usual anxiety about starting another year of education. That's because just a few short months ago, in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., rumors of bad things that might happen swarmed around the Tri-State area schools like bees circling a blossoming fruit tree.

We would like the memory of those events to fade quickly, as the details of a nightmare often do when the sleeper is fully awakened. But wishing won't make it so, and as parents and educators face the new term, they need to prepare themselves and their children for the year ahead.

West Virginia has already announced that it will have a school violence hotline (1-888-200-5630) to tip the state attorney general's office about any threats to student safety. No doubt other states will follow suit. Parents should write down those numbers and encourage their children to use them when they hear about anything that might compromise the safety of students or faculty members.

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In addition, parents have to make it clear to their children that things that would have been tolerated as pranks or "acting up" a year ago will be treated as criminal matters now. Threats will no longer be treated as "just talk," but as possible warnings of action to come. Of course, students should know by now that bringing anything that even resembles a weapon to school will result in an immediate suspension and possible transfer to an "alternative education" site for the rest of the year.

Parents also need to tell their children that it isn't acceptable to pick on classmates because they're smaller, dress differently or if they're not part of an elite group. Educators who see such things happening have a responsibility to intervene, so pupils who have difficulty fitting in aren't tormented to the point where they feel compelled to retaliate.

Undoubtedly there will be more to come, in the form of surveillance cameras, additional counselors and even, in some cases, armed security guards. But by working together, parents, students and teachers can make this year memorable for the good things students learned, instead of for the bad things that happened to them.

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