Staying A Step Ahead Of School Violence

Posted: January 21, 2000

School violence continues to be a tempestuous issue in Chester County communities. These days, when a student threatens harm to people or property, school administrators are likely to dial police departments to ask for assistance.

The Community Violence Prevention Network would like to identify potential problems before those problems occur. The nonprofit program plans to hold its second School Summit today at the Intermediate Unit in Exton.

"We are hoping it will raise awareness that at-risk youths are vulnerable to hate groups in terms of recruitment and as far as being targets," said Christine Grantham, the network's program director.

Grantham will moderate the summit, which begins at 8:30 a.m. today. Grantham said the summit is open to those who are interested in attending. However, seating is limited, and she asked that people call in advance.

Ann Van Dyke, a representative from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, will provide the keynote address. The assistant to the director of education and community services, she will discuss youth and the state of hate crimes in Pennsylvania.

More than 75 school administrators, teachers and students are expected to attend the conference.

"[We are] talking about kids that are alienated from the mainstream of their peers," Grantham said. "Kids that are looking for a group to belong to, a group to care about them."

The network organized last year in response to the Columbine High School shootings and other school tragedies. Through referrals from police, school and other community groups, trained volunteers invite people in to discuss their issues and offer potential solutions.

The group uses mediation to help solve domestic problems. It also conducts forums with community leaders. At its first School Summit in August, roughly 75 people attended.

"The response to the [first] meeting was positive," Grantham said.

Since the August summit, several situations involving school violence have occurred.

In December, two youths from Engle Middle School were charged as juveniles with making terroristic threats. They had told other students they planned to shoot three teachers.

Later that month, parents called state police after an Octorara High School student wrote threatening letters to other students. He was charged as a juvenile with making terroristic threats.

This month, the West Chester Area School District sent students from Henderson High School home early and closed the school after receiving a phone call about a bomb threat. West Chester police did not find a bomb when they search the school.

"We don't quite have the problems that others do, but it does not mean you should not talk about it, think about it, and prepare in case things do happen," said Rudolph Karkosak, superintendent for the Kennett Consolidated School District. Karkosak attended the August summit.

"It is always good to get all the parties together to discuss issues and share information," said Karkosak, who planned to send someone to today's conference. "Much better before than after something happens."

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