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SANTEE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Drama, Speech on School Crises Coincide

Coping: In an event planned before the Santee shootings, a counselor tells about 90 educators in Anaheim how to prevent or deal with such tragedies.

March 06, 2001|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Less than 100 miles north of where a high schooler shot fellow students Monday morning, a group of educators was by coincidence meeting at a workshop on campus crises.

"This is tough stuff to listen to. . . . It's happened very close to us today," said Cheri Lovre, a trauma expert who has helped schools cope with the aftermath of catastrophic events.

Schools must prepare for a host of unthinkable problems after a tragedy such as Santee, from how to return blood-spattered book bags to watching divorce rates spike among the school's distraught teachers, Lovre told school counselors gathered in Anaheim.

Lovre, who provided help at the sites of two high-profile school shootings, was at the Anaheim Marriott on Monday for a workshop on how to prepare for and cope with a campus crisis.

But before the workshop could get going, the 90 or so educators were shocked by the news that it had happened again.

During a break a few minutes later, conference participants rushed to Starbucks and gathered around the television, shaking their heads as images of children on stretchers flashed across the screen.

"This could happen at my school," said Mark Robertson, a counselor at John Adams Middle School in Los Angeles. "This could happen at any school."

By turns macabre and cheerful, Lovre told educators what to expect from a school shooting, and how to set up plans so that, in the event of a catastrophe, there would be "as few surprises as possible."

Although she made many references to the tragedy unfolding in Santee, she drew heavily on the May 1998 shooting in Springfield, Ore., when 15-year-old Kip Kinkle walked into a school cafeteria and shot 23 people, killing one. Lovre, who runs her company, Crisis Management Institute, from nearby Salem, Ore., was the crisis manager at Thurston High School during that shooting. She also worked with parents and teachers in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

Mostly, she is in the business of training schools to develop disaster plans, and in trying to prevent crises in the first place--especially by encouraging students to come forward if they suspect a fellow student could become violent.

After such tragedies, she said, students' test scores dive for months. Divorce rates among teachers leap. Administrators become sick, and many request transfers to other schools. In the three years since the shooting at Thurston High, all the administrators have left but one, Lovre said.

But there are things schools can do, both to prevent tragedies and to work with parents, volunteers and crisis workers to help ease the horror afterward.

"The one constant . . . is there are always kids who know about [the plans for violence] and don't tell," she said. "The biggest thing is setting up an environment where kids will tell."

The more authoritarian a school administration, the less likely students are to come forward with their suspicions, Lovre said.

After such tragedies, she suggested, school officials could invite friendly, lovable dogsto campus to cheer students. Or better yet, ask students what they need to feel safe at school again.

In Springfield, many students found it therapeutic to scrub blood off their own backpacks. That would not be appropriate for other schools to imitate, she said, because of concerns about transmission of diseases through blood.

Lovre also told school officials to screen counselors who show up at schools to offer assistance. After the Springfield shooting, Lovre recalled, a volunteer counselor told school officials she was prepared to offer traumatized students crystal therapy and Tarot card readings.

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