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Is Any School 'Completely Safe'?

April 24, 1999

Tuesday's tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where 15 people died, including the two suspected teenage shooters, has put the spotlight on school security, the Internet's role, gun laws and violent images in films, television and video games. Parents, counselors and school administrators are at a loss about how to deal with the growing chasm between teens and adults. Where does the responsibility lie? MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with students at local high schools to get some of their views.

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MICHAEL KORAN

18, senior, student body president, North Hollywood High School

There are so many preventive measures taken here at our school that something like this could not happen. They have a zero tolerance policy here. Anyone caught with a weapon is expelled, no exceptions. We have four security guards who patrol the grounds constantly. They have random searches for weapons on campus. They do locker searches if they suspect something.

The most important thing is that students who know something is about to happen should talk to someone. Obviously that didn't happen in this case [in Colorado]. Someone must have known something. Here, if there is going to be a fight, students talk and it gets around and it's prevented. There is also a hotline called Teenline that takes calls for everything from suicide to family problems to teen pregnancy.

We need to learn to resolve problems without violence. If you are having problems with a specific student in a class then you transfer from the class. If you happen to eat lunch where someone you don't get along with is, change where you hang out. There should be more open dialogue. We have a day called the Big Talk where lots of people from different backgrounds come together to talk about issues and problems. We meet and talk to people who we wouldn't ordinarily talk to otherwise. It has been very successful.

Ultimately, parents should always be involved with their children. Unfortunately, many times they can't because of circumstances, but somehow or some way parents need to be aware of what their kids are doing, who they hang out with, what their interests are. There are always signs that something is not right.

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MONICA CARDONA

19, senior, Manual Arts High School

Most people think that when someone says they are going to do something violent that no one believes them, that it's a joke. I guess with some people, depending on how well you know them, you know they don't mean it. Nowadays though, everyone should be taken seriously.

If someone sees or hears something, don't be afraid to speak because you never know what could happen. You never know if you're saving your life or your friend's life. I know I would report something if I heard something was being planned. I would talk to a teacher or someone else I trusted.

Many people are influenced by violent images and messages in films and TV and even in video games. After hearing it so much and being around it so much they start confusing things; reality with what's not real.

The fact that parents aren't aware of what their kids are doing is a big problem. How could these parents not have known that their kids were involved with guns and bombs?

Adults should get more involved in helping kids solve problems. They should talk to them more and not just tell them to walk away from the problem. We need to learn to deal with anger and learn to resolve our problems better.

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BRIAN ORTEGA

16, sophomore, student body president, Diamond Ranch High School, Phillips Ranch

No school will ever be completely safe. But what some of the schools are doing now is on the right track with random backpack checks, metal detectors and stricter security. Constant security can let students feel reassured.

Students don't take threats seriously. It's almost a joking matter to hear someone say they want to kill you, bomb the school or set the school on fire. Too many kids today feel that if we say something to an adult about a student, we would be ratting them out.

With all the people at our school we tend to have cliques, which do not show hate for one another physically but it's almost like invisible barriers that separate us. We won't trespass by hanging out with another clique so long as they don't hang out with us. You don't belong if you do not dress like us or if you're not of our race. This creates tension only to the people who don't belong. Yet you will always find groups that are mixed that do not care about issues like that. There are more and more groups like that at school.

Whenever I hear that the Internet or violent video games are being blamed for the acts of violence by teenagers, I think this is how the media want to perceive it. These kids don't know what they are feeling so they blame the influence on the Internet or video games. It's a "recruiting" ground for those who want to spread what they think and voice their opinion without being laughed at or harassed.

Programs that try to unify cliques would be beneficial to any school. They should try to find common ground for all students.

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