Officials work to keep schools safe

BY CLARK CAHILL | APRIL 23, 2009 7:29 AM

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While it’s not possible to stop every random act of violence, local officials say, prevention at high schools has become much more advanced.

Monday marked the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, when two high-school students murdered 13 people before killing themselves in Littleton, Colo. In the last decade, schools worked to keep students safe by identifying potential school shooters and foiling planned attacks, according to recent research by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education.

The research noted that since the early 1990s, a majority of school shooters have given some kind of warning signal prior to the attacks. But experts also reported some schools could be better prepared to prevent violence if they did more to help students feel comfortable reporting potential threats and develop a positive school climate.

Local high schools seem to be doing just that — implementing programs and creating a sense of camaraderie among staff and students, West High Principal Jerry Arganbright said.

West High and City High both have security personnel who patrol the hallways and exterior of the buildings. Though their main job is to prevent violence, much of their days consist of helping students with other problems.

“Students will come to us if they have lost something like a phone,” said Chip Hardesty, a City High campus monitor. “Ninety-eight percent of what we do is positively helping students.”

Both high schools have increased the amount of supervision in the past decade, mostly because of a growing enrollment, Arganbright said.

City High implemented two new programs in the fall of 2008 — a welcome center and a student assistance team — to help create a more positive environment for incoming students and for those who may have anger problems.

“I feel like both programs have made a difference,” Hardesty said. “In the four years I have been here, this has been a very quiet year as far as disruptions.”

Arganbright said West High takes a serious approach to physical confrontations and recently increased consequences for such acts.

West High also has an off-campus program — to send students with anger issues for up to 12 weeks — helping them learn how to handle disagreements in an adult fashion, Arganbright said.

“They still continue their education, but they participate in specific activities to help them control their anger,” he said.

Staff members at both schools also encourage students to report anything they might view as a potential threat. Arganbright noted he makes certain staff members are able to have a strong relationship with students.

“I hope they feel comfortable with the adults here and that they would report anything they would see as a threat,” he said.

West High senior Sam Ferguson said he wouldn’t hesitate to report a threat because he is comfortable with the staff.

“I think it would be easy to talk to them about it,” he said. “And I feel like they would check on it right away.”

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