Students Say Shooting Response Should Be Dialogue, Not Lockdown

(ANS) — As schools across the country consider purchasing new security

equipment, increasing their police presence, updating crisis handbooks and banning

dark trench coats, student representatives caution against adopting a siege mentality

in the wake of the recent murders at Columbine High School.

Ben Smilowitz, co-founder and national chair of the International Student

Activism Alliance, said the Littleton, Colo., shootings and bomb spree point to a

need for more dialogue between students and administrators, not a prison-style

lockdown.

“Students around the country are very upset and sort of frightened but it’s

generally understood that the actions were (taken) by crazy students,” said

Smilowitz, 18, who graduated earlier this year from Hall High School in West

Hartford, Conn. “I think our main problem is that adults are trying to create

solutions, and have forums, and are not including students. That doesn’t make a

lot of sense.”

Members of the alliance, which has 150 chapters in high schools nationwide,

say open discussions about intolerance brewing beneath the surface of many

campuses, increased counseling and peer mediation would go a long way toward

preventing violence on campus. Some schools are more open to these programs

than others, they add.

In New Jersey, high school senior Ashley Price said despite the placid

appearance of largely white Nutley High School, racial slurs and derogatory remarks

about students who were different in attitude or dress from the “in crowd” were all

too prevalent.

“The beautiful people dominate sports, school council and the teachers’

time,” just as their counterparts appeared to do in Littleton, said Price. “Those are

the kids everyone wants to be, but they are also the most hated.”

Price said she thinks while social stereotyping goes on in all schools, efforts to

be proactive in preventing violence can make a big difference. A proposal by

members of her school’s Human Relations Club to form a committee of

administrators, teachers, clergy and students on teaching tolerance is being

considered by administrators, she said, although she thought enthusiasm for this

was stronger on the students’ side. Administrators were not immedately reachable

for comment on this point.

The often different understanding of a school’s social climate by

administrators and students has been underscored in the work of a Boston-based

group that advocates social and emotional learning in schools. Educators for Social

Responsibility found that when program administrators and parents were asked to

assess the overall climate of their workplace or child’s school, they generally saw it

in a much more favorable light than did the students.

At George Washington High School in Charleston, W. Va., senior Anna Sale

said that even though the Littleton shooting was particularly upsetting and it can be

frustratingly difficult to figure out solutions to school violence, dialogue — and not

more rules — was essential.

“I couldn’t really sleep at all last week,” she recalled. “I was very bothered by

it. I find myself glimpsing at students walking down the hallway when I never did

before. But I don’t know if turning schools into a military state is going to improve

anything. There’s sort of an element of hysteria developing that makes me a bit

nervous.”

© COPYRIGHT 1999 THE AMERICAN NEWS SERVICE

This article is copyrighted by The American News Service. Permission is granted to

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Mieke H. Bomann is a free-lance reporter based in Seattle.

Contacts:

Ben Smilowitz, co-founder, national chair, Ashley Price, Anna Sale, International

Student Activism Alliance, 860-232-8452.

Backgrounds:

JoinTogether, Boston, Mass., national advocacy and research group for preventing

youth violence and substance abuse, on-line information service:

http://www.jointogether.org

THE AMERICAN NEWS SERVICE

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