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Tragedy in Colorado

Government Focuses on School Violence, Safety

April 21, 1999|HECTOR TOBAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In October, at a school-violence summit held in the wake of killings in Oregon, Kentucky and Arkansas, President Clinton announced a series of initiatives aimed at making American schools safer.

After some grumbling from Republicans who accused the president of "pandering" for votes before the congressional elections, a trio of agencies finally began soliciting applications for $180 million in new violence-prevention programs on April 1--less than three weeks before Tuesday's shootings in suburban Denver.

The programs, coordinated by the Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services departments, include $80 million to hire community police officers and $40 million for counseling youth deemed at risk for violent behavior. The hiring of security guards and after-school programs will also be funded.

On Tuesday, when questioned about what additional efforts his administration might undertake to stop school violence, Clinton said he wanted to give Littleton, Colo., time to grieve.

"Tonight, I think the American people ought to be thinking about those folks in Littleton," he said. "Tomorrow and in the days ahead, we'll have a little more time to kind of gather ourselves and our determination and go back at this again."

Some school officials point out, however, that even the most elaborate of government efforts might do little to prevent the sort of violence that ravaged Columbine High School.

"I'm sure our district will apply for funds, but that's not the answer to this kind of thing," said Shel Erlich, spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Los Angeles educators have more than a decade of experience in dealing with gunfire on campus. In some elementary schools, students practice "duck-and-cover" drills--adapted from the darkest days of the Cold War--for those harrowing moments when gang members' bullets start to fly in nearby streets.

"You have drills and safety measures, but who knows whether something like that is going to work when two hooded gunmen are walking down the halls with rifles going," Erlich said.

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