No School Can Be Made 100 Percent Safe

Experts share thoughts on ways school security can be improved

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, is writing legislation that would authorize giving local schools funding to prevent violence and ensure safety, a spokeswoman said. The grants could be used to hire police officers, establish tip lines and purchase metal detectors and surveillance cameras.

Danger signs

Researchers have looked for ways to prevent mass violence ever since two students opened fire and killed classmates and a teacher at Columbine outside Denver.

Among their conclusions: Youthful perpetrators of violence often display similar characteristics that educators can be trained to detect, Pollack said. The troubled youths often have emotional problems, have tried to harm someone at school before and commonly talk about maiming or hurting people a week or two before the incident.

They also appear to be depressed, he said.

In addition, Pollack said, students who know the perpetrators told researchers they didn't report the warning signs to adults because they feared they would not be taken seriously or their classmates would get punished rather than helped.

In some cases, they said they thought it would be fruitless to report the behavior because teachers had ignored bullying and teasing in the past.

Those conclusions, Pollack said, have led some schools to work on creating a climate in which students feel safe to express their worries about other students.

"The best protection are the eyes and ears of the kids and students and teachers connected to them," Pollack said.

In several cases in recent years, students have turned in classmates -- preventing potential violence.

Since Columbine, many schools have created plans to help students with emotional difficulties, said Kathleen Buzad, an assistant director at the American Federation of Teachers.

"It is our opinion that schools are safer in the nation than ever before," Buzad said.

Yesterday, parents around the region acknowledged the horror of the Lancaster shootings but said they would not live in fear of such a thing happening to their children.

"If someone wants to do something bad, the reality is that no amount of security can prevent that," said Lucinda Peters, a Howard County parent.

"But I do not send my kids to school every day wondering that they will be killed and won't come home," she said. "They are as safe as they can be."

For the most part, parents interviewed at area schools yesterday said they feel their children are safe.

"Schools are generally fairly secure," said Kama Dwyer, 35, as she spent an afternoon with her children at Rodgers Forge Tot Lot. But "part of the lesson is that it could happen anywhere," Dwyer said.

In Baltimore County, most schools lock doors, although police Capt. Thomas Busch, the schools' liaison, said it is harder to keep high schools secure because students have more freedom to come and go during the day. Sometimes doors get propped open, he said.

"It's a free and open society, and there are risks that are associated with that," Busch said. "I don't think our schools should be fortresses. They should be open for students to feel free and safe to come into."

Baltimore City public schools, too, keep their doors locked at all times.

Margaret Gold, education director of religious school for Temple Isaiah in Fulton, said her 500-student school remains locked almost the entire day.

"We are a Jewish facility, so we feel an extra necessity to be vigilant," Gold said.

Sun reporters Sandy Alexander, Anica Butler, John-John Williams, Jonathan D. Rockoff, Arin Gencer and Laura McCandlish and freelancer Cassandra A. Fortin contributed to this article.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Baltimore Sun Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.