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Breaking the Silence on Guns in Schools : Reseda High's WARN Program Urges Students to Report Weapons--It's Worth Imitating

July 31, 1994

The problem of students who bring guns to school--and what to do about them--is again in the news. That's because of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's plans to introduce a "zero tolerance" amendment to the $12-billion Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Essentially, it would require that any school district that receives federal funding must expel for a year any student who carries a gun to school.

The Los Angeles Unified School District already has a strict policy. LAUSD students who get caught with a firearm on campus are usually kicked out for the remainder of that semester, and for the one that follows. Gun incidences there are down.

Such policies, however, still do not address a critical problem: getting even more students to speak up and warn officials when they see that one of their peers is carrying a gun.

Reseda High School continues to set something of a national example here, one that other schools would do well to duplicate. Its efforts were spurred by the fact that at least six students at Reseda High said they noticed a teen-ager with a gun on the day that an armed youth later shot and killed student Michael Ensley. Not one of those students warned school officials about what they saw.

Since then, the school's WARN program (which stands for Weapons Are Removed Now), has been trying to break the unofficial code of silence that decrees that no student should rat on another, regardless of the seriousness of the transgression. It is the kind of local initiative that can save lives and rid schools of potentially violent youths before they are allowed to resort to intimidation and violence.

WARN has received national attention from media sources as diverse as the NBC Nightly News and the "Donahue" show. Among other things, WARN members perform skits that point out the tragedies that can occur and be prevented if students speak up about what they see.

The toughest expulsion policy in the nation will not matter a whit if the weapon-carrying student is discovered only after he or she has managed to shoot someone.

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