Ga. taps Web for school safety

Georgia — the state ranked among the top 10 in school-related homicides and suicides since 1992 — last week launched a Web site where the public can give anonymous tips about potential threats to students.

"It is vital that we utilize every tool available to create open and emotionally safe lines of communication with our young people," said Karen Franklin, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency's School Safety Project, which manages the site in partnership with Georgia Net Authority and Georgia Bureau of Investigation. "We have to reach our children where they are, and for many, it is on the Net."

Users of the School Safety Zone site (www.ganet.org/inthezone) can submit a school's name, city and county, what's happening, who's involved and how authorities can get more information. Users can choose to remain anonymous.

Franklin said law enforcement officials follow up on the tips. "If a student reports information of a threat, it goes to GBI," she said. "They determine to which jurisdiction [the potential threat] belongs. We're fortunate to provide a tool to our local community."

Franklin said the program was in the works before the high-profile school shooting in Conyers, Ga., last year.

On May 20, 1999, Thomas Solomon Jr., then a 15-year-old sophomore, entered Heritage High School in Conyers armed with a revolver and sawed-off rifle He allegedly shot six students, but no one was killed. The shooting came one month after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., in which 15 people were killed. Solomon, who faces 21 counts including aggravated assault, is awaiting trial.

The nonprofit National School Safety Center (www.nssc1.org) recently released a report titled "School-Associated Violent Deaths," which tracked school-related homicides, suicides and weapons-related deaths nationwide since 1992 for elementary and secondary schools. Georgia had 17 such deaths.

Franklin said her 13-member staff is committed to violence prevention efforts by training and communicating with parents, students, schools, public safety agencies and community organizations. The Web site provides tip sheets for students, parents and schools on how to deal with issues of violence. It also features a youth services directory with contact information for state and national agencies and organizations that deal with family crises, sexual assault, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide prevention, health and AIDS, and child welfare.

Franklin said 22 other states have school safety centers, but only Virginia has a similar Web site, 4safeva (www.4safeva.org), that provides a forum for anonymously reporting information about possible threats.

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