Web sites, CDs attempt to curb school violence

Some state and local government agencies are involving technology in less direct ways with the idea of making schools and communities safer.

Georgia and Virginia have created Web sites for parents, students and other community members to anonymously report tips about potential threats in schools. People go to the site, type in a school's name, district, city and/or county, and then report the anticipated incident, people involved, and information that could be useful to authorities. Georgia's School Safety Zone site (www.ganet.org/inthezone), launched in August and managed by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, has had about 650 hits since September, according to Vicki Metz, spokeswoman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. She said tips are usually reviewed by the agency and then sent to one of the regional offices, which in turn asks the local sheriff's department to investigate.

Metz said it was too early to tell whether the site was making a difference. She said parents of middle and high school students send tips usually about bullying and concerns about drug use.

In Broward County, Fla., the sheriff's office equipped its 1,300-member force with compact discs containing detailed floor plans, aerial photos and interior shots of the 61 local schools. Agency officials said using the CD would cut planning and response time by hours. Broward deputies can use the CDs on laptops in their patrol cars.

Other organizations, such as the National Education Association, a nonprofit public education advocacy group, are tapping technology in yet other ways to improve safety.

NEA has a program called Safe Schools Now Network, (www.nea.org/issues/safescho/echostar/safeschools/ index.html), which is broadcast to more than 6,000 schools. The topics include recognizing warning signs of potential violence, promoting responsible and respectful behavior, building a comprehensive safe school culture and teaching methods of peer mediation and conflict resolution.

Programming is geared toward school administrators, counselors, parents, law-enforcement officials and other leading community members, but students have also watched the programs.

Jerry Newberry, director of the NEA's Health Information Network, which oversees the project, said EchoStar Communications Corp., a Littleton-based broadcast satellite company, subsidizes the program because many of the EchoStar employees had sons or daughters at Columbine. After the tragedy, they wanted to do something to keep such violence from happening again.

EchoStar donated 1,000 satellite dishes to schools nationwide so they would have access to the NEA's nine-part film series about school safety. It began airing last January and runs through March 2001. "Reason for Hope," the first installment, focused on the Columbine tragedy.

After each show, the NEA's Web site offers downloadable discussion guides and resources for the various topics. Newberry said when the program ends, the organization will create several 15-minute videotapes on the most salient topics from the series for affiliates and schools to use.

"We were finding that a lot of schools didn't know what to do about setting up school safety programs," Newberry said.

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