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Wrestling With How to Make Schools Safer

March 21, 2001

I relived the emotional experience of my high school days through the perspective of Mary McNamara ("High School Hasn't Changed--Except for the Gun," March 9). Almost everything she wrote I could relate to and again witnessed through my own children.

I don't think the article went far enough, however, to answer the difficult question about violent choice behavior. Guns were more accessible with much fewer laws when I was in school. Something else has changed--not the guns.

MILTON E. VAUGHT

Huntington Beach

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Reading this article, I disagree with the premise. Bullying, harassment and other verbal physical abuses have always existed among some adolescents and teens in middle and high schools. What has changed among some is the response. Some parents and some schools have not adapted training to the current in-your-face, violent, cultural environment.

Around the eighth or ninth grade, the school curriculum should include a behavior orientation course that teaches and reinforces acceptable behaviors in school and toward others.

ETELVINA R. PATMAS

Mission Viejo

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For Mary McNamara to suggest that high school is the same as it has always been except for guns is absurd. Nor is it right to imply that our children are not safe in high school.

According to a study by the Justice Policy Institute, the odds of a high school student being killed or injured in a schoolyard shooting are about one in a million.

Before the push for stricter gun laws over the last 20 to 30 years, firearms could be ordered through the mail, and background checks and permits were unheard of.

It's a tragedy when a person of any age goes berserk and strikes out by hurting and murdering people. But if we have any hope of preventing those things from happening we must focus on the behavior and the broken moral compass of our society, not the tool that was used in the crime.

JERRY LEE

Beverly Hills

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Yes, high school is too often not an emotionally safe place. Combining this with media role models and access to deadly force gives us these rare but well-publicized school tragedies.

McNamara implies that high school bullying and victimization is the state of nature, it always has been and always will be. If we accept this, the only possible solution to this problem is to change our cultural role models and to put the gun-access genie back in the bottle.

Schools will never be safe physically if they are not safe emotionally. What is needed is a long overdue change of the school culture. Educators need to accept the responsibility for students' emotional as well as their academic well-being. Each incidence of harassment that is not confronted is condoned. We as educators are the best hope for preventing these school shootings.

MEL PALMER

Fountain Valley

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What a beautiful discourse and analysis of the community of the city of Santee by Sandy Banks ("The Suburb That Closed Its Heart to a Newcomer," March 11). Santee is like many small cities across the nation.

I cannot believe the unfortunate happening in Santee will really change the social habits. There will still be an air of bullying, taunting and tormenting to any newcomer to the city's high schools and possibly junior high schools. Changes in that kind of environment take years. How unfortunate.

JOHNNIE F. KIRVIN

Los Angeles

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As one of those bullied from elementary school to high school, I understand how someone could be pushed to the breaking point by the range of abuse this kid suffered.

What cannot be excused is the level of complicity shared by the parents of the bullies of Santee and of these packs of the "popular" ones. Bullying and taunting and abuse are not acquired by genetics or osmosis; they are learned behaviors taught by adults. Maybe holding some of these little "darlings' " parents financially responsible when harassments occur and prosecuting them under hate crime laws will finally get it through their heads that abuse ofany kind will no longer be tolerated.

Maybe it's too late for the victims of Santee, but by weeding out the real cause of Andy Williams' alleged acts of rage and revenge, we can stop more innocent lives from being lost to violence and the penal system.

JULIE T. BYERS

Temple City

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