- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush, bemoaning an “incredibly sad” wave of deadly school shootings, challenged the nation yesterday to turn its remorse into aggressive action to keep children safe.

“In many ways, I’m sorry we’re having this meeting,” Mr. Bush said at a conference on school safety organized by the White House.

“In other ways,” he said, “I know how important it is that we’re having this meeting.”

Mr. Bush organized the summit in the Maryland suburbs after shootings at schools in Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania. In panel discussions led by members of his Cabinet, speakers said the best response is basic: get parents, school leaders, students and police to work together.

“All of us in this country want our classrooms to be gentle places of learning — places where people not only learn the basics — basic skills necessary to become productive citizens — but learn to relate to one another,” Mr. Bush told about 300 people attending the event at National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase.

First lady Laura Bush said schoolchildren need to know adults are protecting them.

“I urge all adults across the country to take their responsibility to children — their own children and their community’s children — seriously,” said Mrs. Bush, a former school librarian. “Our parents, I know, want to be able to send their child or children to schools that are safe places.”

Safety specialists at the gathering said that more than metal detectors or security cameras, the key to halting school violence is communication.

“Our first line of prevention is really having good intelligence,” said Delbert S. Elliott, director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence in Boulder, Colo.

He said schools should encourage children to speak up when they hear classmates boasting of violent plans.

The speakers hit the same themes — schools get safer when they take bullying seriously, practice crisis plans and talk to parents about what’s happening with their children.

“The communication link is very important,” said George Sugai, a University of Connecticut education professor. “Parents are not going to engage the schools if they have to walk through a metal detector, if they have to go through steps to access the teachers.”

The lack of new solutions was not surprising. Safety specialists have said for years that changing school culture is the best way to halt violence, although it’s difficult to do.

Columbine survivor Craig Scott talked about the nation’s worst school massacre. He recalled hiding under a table in the school’s library that day in 1999 when student gunmen went on a rampage, killing 13 persons. One of them was his sister Rachel. He now speaks to schools on her behalf, encouraging students to choose compassion over violence.

“It’s such a high price to have to pay to be able to do this, but it’s so worth it,” Mr. Scott said, choking up. “If we can carry messages that have value and that have substance — that aren’t Band-Aid answers — I believe that we’ll have impact.”


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