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California and the West

2 Bills Aim to Head Off Violence in Schools

Assembly: Michigan shooting draws attention to measures that would fund counseling and training in conflict resolution.

March 06, 2000|KRISTI GARRETT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The shooting of a first-grader in Michigan, allegedly by a classmate, has focused new attention on two bills pending in the Legislature that would allocate money for "management conflict" in state elementary schools.

Assemblyman Carl Washington (D-Paramount) has introduced a bill that would put more counselors trained in conflict resolution into elementary and middle schools. His measure, AB 1738, would provide $5 million for school districts to spend on counselors, equipment and law enforcement.

"After the Michigan shooting," Washington said, "we believe this is an item that is going to take off like wildfire."

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Education Committee March 15. Washington introduced a similar bill that was signed into law last year providing $1 million for more counselors in high school.

Preventing bullying in fifth and sixth grades is the goal of a bill by Assemblywoman Sally Havice (D-Cerritos).

"Children will always argue and fight," Havice said. "But they need to know how to resolve differences. That's the big problem." Havice's bill, AB 1390, would provide schools with $5,000 grants for two-year pilot programs of their choosing for training, communications devices or campus safety officers.

The chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (D-San Rafael), said there is now remarkable consensus about school safety measures.

"These bills are widely supported because of concerns about safe school environments and increasing school violence across the country," Mazzoni said.

Some Republicans scoff at the idea that small grants, such as those proposed in Havice's bill, can do much to prevent school violence.

"This is an attempt to change human behavior by passing a new law," said Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (R-Encinitas). "They're only proposing solutions that bloat bureaucracy. . . . Show me a program that works, I'll be for it."

Havice said opponents' disdain for state-mandated local programs is politically motivated. "If people complain it's not enough, they should submit a bill that . . . gives more money instead of saying, 'You can't change human nature.' I get very upset at people who would fight things that would be beneficial to children for purely political reasons."

Even with the extra money that would be provided by the bills, schools might have a struggle ahead of them. The state Department of Education estimates that the overall ratio of students to counselors in 1998 at 1,019 to 1, up from 847 to 1 a decade earlier. The state would need 1,245 more counselors each year to get up to the national standard of 500 to 1 by 2005.

Bills that encourage districts to hire counselors should help, said Teri Burns, the department's deputy superintendent of governmental affairs.

"If the job opportunities were there, I'm sure there would be people anxious to go for them."

School district professionals have seen encouraging movement into the counseling ranks. Trish Hatch, who coordinates the counselor program for the Moreno Valley Unified School District, said she is heartened to see schools spending money on prevention and intervention.

"We need to have a system in place so that when there are problems, when we notice students who have warning signs, the system is in place to assist students, their families and teachers with getting students the individual assistance they need."

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