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Safety symposium experts say keep an eye on kids

by Merrie Leininger

A community’s happiness and safety is a reflection of its childrens’ happiness and safety.

That was the idea expressed Wednesday by each speaker at the School Safety Symposium, who also urged community members to become a positive part of children’s lives.

“This is not a magical silver bullet that will solve all our problems,” said Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini. “We need you to be an active part in the community. We need you to be a team player.”

Many of 600 attendees may have recognized the keynote speakers, Jefferson County, Colo., Sheriff John Stone and Public Information Officer Steve Davis.

The two officials appeared at many press conferences following the murders of 12 students and one teacher by two other students of Columbine High School before the pair killed themselves.

Stone told the audience the department arrested another teen-ager Tuesday for threatening to “finish the job” that Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, started six months ago.

Stone described the scene he walked into April 20 as “chaos” with fire and smoke, broken glass and shoes lying all over.

Students and staff were so frightened, they literally ran out of their shoes, he said.

“The message I’d like to leave here for parents is to keep an eye on your children. Don’t think their bedroom is a sanctum that you can’t go into and look around. To children: break the silence. When your own safety is put in danger, tell someone. Treat these threats like they are real, because you never know,” he said.

n What you need to know. After the keynote speakers, a panel of Douglas County officials described the programs put into place to help the schools remain safe, including peer court, the 782-SAFE hotline, and emergency training in the schools.

Then, the participants divided into two groups to allow parents to get more information about what warning signs to look for in their children and how to help them.

DHS Principal Bev Jeans, who attended a one-day school safety conference in Los Angeles with members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office this summer, used the information gathered there to tell parents about the profile of the type of teen-agers who would commit acts of school violence.

Those students capable of violence, whom she called “classroom avengers,” generally fit a certain profile.

They are white males about 16 years old from middle class backgrounds and live in the suburbs.

They are academically average to above average, and not heavily involved in drugs or alcohol, she said. The students are not generally known behavior problems to school administrators or to law enforcement.

The most important distinguishing features of these very average-looking students is that they are social outcasts who are often teased or victimized at school and show signs of being suicidal.

n At-risk children. Investigator Keith Logan spoke to parents about the signs children display after they become engaged in illegal or dangerous activity.

Logan said to watch for any sudden change: in grades, in friends, in attitude toward things formerly important to them.

He warned parents that these things by themselves may not mean anything, but it is important for parents always to ask, “why?”

Logan, whose job at the sheriff’s office is to investigate gang activity, warned if children are suddenly wearing one specific color, sports team or number, or listening to a new or bizarre type of music, check into the hidden meanings.

While most music teen-agers listen to is bizarre to parents, Logan said, parents need to listen to it. Some music goes beyond bizarre to advocating violence and hate groups.

Sheriff Pierini said he thinks the symposium helped parents.

“The comments I got were very favorable and I saw a lot of parents taking notes. I think they will go home having a clear understanding of their roles as a parent and feel better about what to look for,” he said.

n On Wednesday: What parents can do.

Quotes:

Susan Van Alyne, Gardnerville

“I decided to come because it’s a subject of interest to me as a parent and as a teacher at Carson Valley Middle School. After it happened, I did have kids who voiced concerns and we had a lot of classroom conversations. We talked about what they might do and ways to report something. As a parent, I’m just concerned with my child’s safety.”

Paula Ortiz, Gardnerville

“We hope this will help us be aware and help protect our own kids and any kids in this community. I feel we have good kids, but you never know. You really have to be connected.”

Jack Stafford, assistant principal of South Lake Tahoe High School

“Anything I can pick up to prevent a catastrophe like what happened at Columbine is well worth my time.”

Yvette Kvasnicka

“I just want to be more aware so I can talk to my daughter and tell her what things to look for. I’m interested in warning signs, what to look for in my kid’s friends and anyone. I’m a girl scout leader, so I’m interested in that kind of thing.”

Katy Theumer, DHS senior and member of peer court

“If parents don’t communicate with kids, it doesn’t matter what we are trying to do, it’s not going to happen.”

Kathi D’Amico, Gardnerville

“I think it was very informative. It was interesting to hear about the things implemented in the schools like conflict managers. It was interesting to learn what of your children’s behavior you are responsible for.”

Mike Sharp, Minden

“I think people put a lot of hard work into this. It was very well thought-out. They should do more things like this. I wish something was done a long time ago. We are very luck to have community leaders in the schools and law enforcement who are willing to take the time to put on something like this.”

Dena Bodecker, Reno resident and member of Parent Patrol.

“I think we need more parents because when I’m standing on the street and the kids start fighting or something, it’s not, ‘Here comes Mrs. Bodecker,’ it’s ‘Here comes Daniel’s mom.’ It means more because I’m a mom.”