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Parents hear about DHS reaction to tragedy at new club’s meeting

by Linda Hiller

The timing of the new Parents Club meeting at Douglas High School was coincidental, but the opportunity to discuss school safety kept parents and school administrators talking for more than two hours Wednesday evening.

Principal Bev Jeans and Vice Principal Susan Baldwin ran the meeting, attended by nine parents and Douglas County School District Superintendent Pendery Clark. Jeans explained the events of the past week at DHS since the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. which left 15 people dead following a rampage by two of that school’s students.

“We have a close relationship with our sheriff’s department here and have been working with them since Littleton,” Jeans said. “Normally, we work with them on issues like lunchtime, where we have approximately 1,400 students who leave the campus causing traffic concerns, but now we’re talking about safety issues.”

Jeans said the day after the shootings, a faculty meeting was called.

“We felt the greatest thing we could have was good communication,” she said.

During that school day, two election assemblies had already been scheduled, so she took the opportunity to speak to the students about what had occurred in Colorado and how DHS would respond.

“I talked about Littleton and told the students that we really wanted to know what their concerns are, and tried to let them know that they should come forward if they had any,” she said.

Administrators from all the DCSD secondary schools met, along with representatives from the sheriff’s office that day to discuss safety issues and procedures.

“When we had that bomb threat this year, which fortunately turned out to be a hoax, it was a wake-up call for us,” she said. “We discussed safety issues back then.”

Several of the safety measures implemented are:

– Use of a code which can be broadcast over a school’s public address system in an emergency.

– Issuance of master keys to the sheriff’s department so officers can have emergency access to the school.

– Giving the sheriff’s office blueprints of the school and informing deputies of slang names for certain locations at a school.

– The bully issue. Jeans informed parents that school officials and sheriff’s office officials have been working together since September on a program aimed at targeting the problem of bullies, fighting and intimidating at local schools. Funded by a $65,000 federal grant, Jeans said one of the first goals, particularly since Littleton, will be to put in place a hotline for students to call anonymously and report any of their concerns or tips for law enforcement and school administrators to address.

Jeans said the SORT team from the sheriff’s office will practice at the DHS school building when students are not in school.

Jeans said gang officers from the sheriff’s office briefed all DHS employees on a gang called Straight Edge, which is considered the fastest growing gang in the United States.

“Initially, what this group stood for sounded great – no drugs, no alcohol, no promiscuity, and they were animal rights activists – but a branch of them has gone into violence and many of them are followers of (shock rocker) Marilyn Manson,” she said.

“The day after Littleton, we noticed the Straight Edge kids came to school more flamboyant than normal,” she said, adding that this was also observed by other secondary principals. “These are not necessarily bad kids, but they didn’t use good judgment. There needed to be better thinking, at least as a sign of respect for the people in Littleton, we told the students.”

Jeans told the Parents Club that more flamboyantly-dressed students were asked to come to the office and, in turn, their parents were called to come in and be informed of the school’s concerns by administrators and gang officers.

– Student suspended. Reports of a student pretending to shoot other students with an imaginary gun resulted in that student’s in-house suspension, she said.

The teen-ager is in custody in Carson City Juvenile detention. He will be in juvenile court Monday.

“It was one crisis after another Wednesday,” she said. “I can’t remember a more stressful time.”

Baldwin told the parents that the three days following the shootings last week were the worst she remembered in more than 20 years as a teacher and administrator.

Following a question on the dress code, Jeans gave a nutshell description of what is not allowed – sharp spikes, large safety pins (or anything that could be used as a weapon), T-shirts with sexual innuendos or mention of drugs, alcohol, violence, racism, gangs and/or tobacco, midriff-baring shirts, spaghetti straps and short-shorts.

Jeans said an additional $17,000 grant has recently been added to the previous $65,000, allowing the district to put deputies on campus at certain times – something she said students have indicated they would like.

While Wednesday’s meeting was dominated by discussion of what DHS was doing to prevent something like what happened in Littleton, Baldwin said that sometimes good things can be learned from tragedy.

“Our mission is to transition these students from here into the workplace, into the world,” Baldwin said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever understand what went on in those kids’ heads, but at least we can look at prevention.”

– Student videos that work. Jeans said a sexual harassment video made by students at DHS and shown school-wide, had resulted in a heightened awareness of the problem and a reduction of harassment incidents.

“The peer court has discussed making a video on bullying and intimidation and we hope this will have the same positive effect,” she said.

In response to a question about student athletes bullying non-athletes, something that was mentioned in the aftermath of Littleton, Jeans said the program with the sheriff’s office has discussed that.

“We want to get the athletes to be positive role models and leaders, and we also want to empower kids to speak up,” she said. “Hopefully, the hotline will help with that.”

– Get involved. Jeans asked parents in attendance if they would be interested in having more Parents Club meetings and everyone agreed. The meetings will be monthly at 6:30 p.m. and announced in The Record- Courier as well as in the school newsletter.

For more information or suggestions, call Jeans at 782-5136.