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The Lessons of School Violence

Shootings: A San Diego County panel calls for more parental involvement and police presence on campuses.

August 22, 2001|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — A task force formed after shooting rampages at two high schools in eastern San Diego County has recommended that additional police be stationed on campuses and more parents and other "appropriate, caring" adults get involved with schools.

Still, the group concluded that "available research establishes that there is no way to predict or 'profile' a school shooter."

Appointed after shootings at Santana and Granite Hills high schools, the Lessons Commission recommended that steps be taken to eliminate conditions thought to lead to violence, including "turf territories" on campus and growing alienation among students who are not planning to attend college.

"I was surprised at the frustration felt by students who are not college-bound," said group member Wendell Cutting, chief of staff to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine).

Most of the recommendations are similar to those made in other communities where school violence has become an issue: Hire more police and counselors, sharpen emergency planning, and establish an anonymous tip line for the reporting of threats and bullying.

But the group, which looked at all 11 schools in the 24,000-student Grossmont Union High School District, also suggested that in attempting to increase its test scores and the numbers of students attending college, the district has alienated a large group of students who are bound directly for the work force after graduation.

"We have to give dignity to courses providing job-preparation skills and not make it seem like high SAT scores or Stanford 9 scores are the only thing worth respecting," said Dist. Atty. Paul Pfingst.

On some campuses, certain areas are, in effect, reserved for specific cliques and groups, including a small number of white racists, the commission concluded. Other students learn to avoid those areas, undercutting their sense of safety and belonging.

"Territorial issues have been identified by faculty as being a substantial campus problem," said the group's report. "Some of the territorial issues inevitably involve separations according to race or ethnicity and present the potential for conflict."

To eliminate turf, the group suggests that parents and other adults come to campus more frequently, particularly at lunch. The group said that Grossmont schools have gotten too big and that efforts should be made to establish smaller "schools within a school." Granite Hills has 2,850 students, Santana 1,900.

"When schools get too big, students feel disconnected," said Sandra McBrayer, 1994 National Teacher of the Year and now chief executive of the San Diego-based Children's Initiative. "When you have 2,900 students, that's not the kind of school community that fosters pride."

The Lessons Commission was charged by the school board with finding ways to prevent the violence that erupted at Grossmont schools twice within 17 days.

On March 5, a gunman shot and killed two students and wounded 13 others at Santana High in Santee; on March 22, a gunman shot five students at Granite Hills High in El Cajon.

Charles Andrew Williams, 15, a freshman, is charged in the Santana shooting; Jason Hoffman, 18, a senior, in the Granite Hills. Both are awaiting trial in Superior Court.

Williams is said to have been subjected to taunting and bullying. Hoffman allegedly was angry at a vice principal after being rejected in his attempt to enlist in the Navy.

Compiled after sessions with students, teachers and parents, the report was presented Tuesday night at a special school board meeting.

Superintendent Granger Ward said it was "important for us to take a step back and examine what more could be done" to increase student safety. Lionel R. Meno, dean of the College of Education at San Diego State University, said the group found nothing to suggest that Grossmont was a troubled or violence-prone school district.

"These are not extreme schools," he said. "Every school in the country needs to be doing these kind of things; there are no exemptions anymore."

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