March 19, 2001
When school-age children break the Fifth Commandment
by Jeanette Knutson
Radio crackpots, newspaper pundits and para-news goobers are all pontificating about the Paducah/Columbine/Santee phenomena. Brokaw, Rather and that other guy have contributed to their sound bites to the dialog. Why even the Seattle PI had a "brain expert" weigh in.
But for all their theories ‹ glib or esoteric ‹ about this bizarre middle class violence problem our society has, we can't seem to prevent it.
With each incident, we are shocked anew. But just as media coverage creeps from informational to sarcastic, we, too, make our own psychological moves; we get over it, become accepting of it.
And this begs the question: What are we doing ‹ in our corner of the world ‹ to address or counteract the possibility of its happening right here? Are we taking steps individually or collectively to ambush the next teen sniper before he mows down his classmates?
Judge for yourself.
Pamela Steele, director of communications for the Northshore School District, points to the district-initiated anonymous-tip line for parents and kids to report dangerous, illegal or suspicious activities, in English or Spanish, at 1-800-78-CRIME.
"We're encouraging parents and staff to talk to kids about coming forward. In this latest [killing] incident [in Santee, Calif.], somebody had a clue and didn't come forward. Either they were thinking the person wasn't serious, he was joking or they didn't want to be a tattletale."
The result was tragic: two dead, 13 wounded.
About the bullying factor, the set of circumstances that turns passive victims into explosive shooters, Steele explained the "Students Rights and Responsibilities" handbook, which addresses the harassment/ bullying issue, is sent to each student in the district.
She referred to the yearly Days of Respect week held at Woodinville and Inglemoor high schools whose culminating activities are schoolwide assemblies dealing with stopping school violence, with respecting one another or topics students deem pertinent. She mentioned the FADE (Falcons Against Discrimination Everywhere) and the BAD (Bothell Against Discrimination) student-driven anti-discrimination groups and the extensive Woodinville High School survey on bullying and harassment undertaken to determine perceived problems in this arena. (Survey tabulations are not in.)
At the elementary level, said Steel, district schools have implemented character education programs in which teachers identify character traits ‹ concepts such as tolerance, patience, respect ‹ then discuss them; do class activities about them; in short, dwell on them long enough so that children eventually internalize them.
Bothell High School Principal Al Haynes said his school is trying to do a number of different things to waylay student violence.
"We have had a conflict mediation program in place for five or six years now. We use this peer-mediation approach to resolve problems between students." And they occasionally use this mediation option to deal with discipline problems as well, said Haynes.
"We have a Climate and Culture Committee that looks for ways to maintain a respectful climate at school." This group sponsors student forums to discuss issues they feel are important.
"And in light of the most recent incident, we have been asking teachers to do guided discussions with classes about how to respond, what to do.
"We have handed out packets of awareness information ... we are constantly stressing a message of tolerance and respectful behavior toward everyone," said Haynes.
Ken Greff, Bothell High school psychologist, emphasized that schools are safe places, that there have been some unfortunate and scary incidents but that, by and large, school violence has decreased since the early 1990s.
He said, "The actions [that we are taking to create a safe school environment] are not reactions to a specific incident, but rather a climate of safety is something we want to build irrespective of any singular event that may occur."
A delegation of Bothell High students, said Greff, attended a seminar last year sponsored by Mothers Against Violence and Students Against Violence at which the then U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Thatcher delivered his "prescription" for the safety and health of children in America. Students brought back ideas from this conference and together they and school administrators continue to look for ways to be proactive, to prevent, rather than react to, violence.
Of Andy Williams, the young man in custody for the Santee schoolhouse shootings, classmate David Toombs said, "In the last couple months, he was drunk a lot and smoked a ton of pot ..." That drugs and alcohol played a part in Williams' desperate outburst probably surprises no one.
Northshore School district has its eye on the drug problem and has hired Intervention/Prevention Specialist Jerry Blackburn to counsel on-site at Woodinville and Inglemoor high schools and Northshore and Leota junior highs.
Inglemoor uses cameras for security, to watch its own students and to pick up on any uninvited "guests," said Vicki Sherwood, principal.
"We have Interhigh Exchanges," said Sherwood, "where students from our school go to other schools to talk about issues of interest. Then our students bring back that information and share it in one of our advisory periods," a special time slot once a day, three times a week, set aside for the discussion of school issues, for the dissemination of information. Two days a week this time slot is used for club meetings.
"Like everywhere, Inglemoor students are encouraged to tell someone about suspicious behavior," said Sherwood. "They can tell their parents, and the parents can call us; they can tell a peer; tell a teacher, write an anonymous note or use the district tip line."
And Inglemoor has a two-prong mentoring program, Sherwood explained, "mentoring for the head, a tutorial program where students go for academic help, and mentoring for the heart, where students who need an adult ear can hook up with a teacher to talk."
Part of Inglemoor's Senior Issues programs is Viking Service, a requirement of each senior to do community service. A recent drive netted 90,000 cans of food, "three semis full," said Sherwood. Getting students involved, showing them that they can make a difference, is an important component of education, she said.
"Then we have Breakfasts with Miss Sherwood where students are invited [to break bread] with school administrators, to talk one-on-one about whatever they want to talk about," the principal explained.
"You know, we have a great school and a great community. We can do everything in our power to prevent [violence] from happening. But we can't guarantee something won't happen. We encourage our kids to tell us, tell someone, and we hope our kids will make good judgments."
Sharon Williamson, Leota Junior High principal, said their school, like others, has crisis plans and practices lockdown procedures regularly.
"We were fortunate to have the Woodinville Police assist at our last drill. They and about 15 parents watched and assessed how well we did," Williamson said.
She praised the School Resource Officer Program, a program in which King County police officers spend time regularly in schools, allowing young people to see officers as real people. In fact, area schools, in general, spoke highly of their school resource officers, who make it their business to get to know the kids, who put a personal face on law enforcement.
Woodinville Police Department Sgt. Ken Baxter said there was good communication between schools and the police.
"But we're getting more calls about potential problems and we're investigating them fully to determine if the kids are at risk. Times have changed. We will prosecute those who violate the law and create a sense of fear in our community," said Baxter.
At Leota Jr. High students formed "SOLAD," Students of Leota Against Discrimination. "Kids are at the center of this group. They're helping educate other students about discrimination ... they're working on awareness, how to deal with harassment," said Williamson.
"We also have extra adults present in the lunchroom. We want our children to see a lot of adults. It makes them feel safe," she said.
"This violence issue is a societal problem. If a weapon comes to school, it's coming from a home. It's not just a school issue. But when we're supportive, everyone benefits. By the same token, if we [ignore the problem], everyone pays. We have to pay attention to our youth," Williamson concluded.
Ours is an enlightened school community. Their approaches to dealing with potential school violence are diverse and thoughtful. Next week in Part II of this story, we will examine what the rest of the community is doing about this problem and whether or not we are doing enough.