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School officals say shooting could happen anywhere

by Andy Bourelle

It could happen anywhere – including here.

When two middle school students allegedly murdered four children and a teacher in Jonesboro, Ark., Douglas County school officials and sheriff’s officers were horrified by the news, but while it could happen anywhere, they were confident they were doing everything they could to avoid a similar situation.

Carson Valley Middle School Principal Roger Gerson described his reaction in two words: “Shock and dismay.”

Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School Principal Charlie Condron felt the same way.

“It’s a middle school principal’s nightmare,” he said. “It’s any principal’s nightmare – elementary, middle or high school – to have a weapon used on campus. Something like this always reminds us how fragile things are.”

Gardnerville Elementary School Counselor Marty Skaggs said a lack of child-parent communication on a national level has led to instances such as the Jonesboro incident.

“My reaction was deep, deep sadness,” he said. “As a parent, I can’t imagine having my child blown away at school. But more, I felt a deep, deep sadness for America.”

On March 24, an 11-year-old and 13-year-old boy hid outside their 250-student middle school, dressed in camouflage and armed with guns. When the school evacuated for a false fire alarm, the boys allegedly opened fire, killing five people and injuring 11.

Jonesboro’s population is about 50,000, not significantly more than Douglas County’s population of about 40,000.

While Arkansas is far from Nevada, similar incidents – although not to the same severity – have occurred closer to home.

A Yerington 15-year-old was recently sent to the Caliente Youth Center for psychological treatment for allegedly planning to kill teachers and students at a school assembly in December.

Other events have happened more recently, including several situations only one day after the Arkansas shootings.

A 14-year-old boy was taken into custody March 25 in San Mateo County, Calif., after he fired a pistol at his principal. The principal, who was not injured, had sent the boy home from school early on March 20 because the boy had been angry and needed to cool off. Also on March 25, two 8th grade Sparks Middle School students were taken into juvenile detention for reportedly bringing a .22-caliber and a 9 mm handgun to school.

Skaggs said the same situations could happen in Douglas County.

“Gardnerville is no different from Yerington, or Reno, or Sparks,” he said. “We’ve just been lucky so far.”

However, the school district and the sheriff’s office do what they can to avoid any type of similar situation.

“I think we really work hard to make sure things like this don’t happen here,” Condron said. “Any hint of a weapon or any scenario of violence is dealt with in a very proactive, rapid manner.”

PWLMS and other county schools have a close, working relationship with the sheriff’s office, Condrnon said, adding to student safety.

“(Sheriff’s officers) are here within seconds any time we have to contact them,” Condron said.

The sheriff’s office has similar praise for the school district.

“We rely on school officials, and the school district has done an outstanding job,” said Sgt. Lance Modispacher. “Officers don’t generally go to the schools and walk the halls, but the teachers do. The teachers are our eyes and ears.”

Modispacher also said the Douglas County School District has great counselors, who work well with students. The schools try to keep students active and involved, to keep them away from negative influences.

“The schools are the experts on the kids,” he said. “They just call us when it gets to a point where safety of other students becomes an issue.”

By law, any student who brings a firearm or explosive device into school, is expelled for a year, said Gerson. If it occurs a second time, the student is expelled from all Nevada schools for the rest of his or her life.

Gerson and Condron both said students are encouraged to, and often do, come forward if they see or hear of something suspicious or dangerous.

“Some kids had to know something was going to happen (in Jonesboro),” Condron said. “If someone had reported something, the school never would have been in that situation.”

Every report is looked into.

“Better to tend to 10 false alarms than let one go by that isn’t,” Gerson said.

Although the county feels it is doing everything it can, Skaggs said responsibility for children’s behavior lies primarily with their parents.

“Kids don’t get the kind of attention from their parents they did 40 years ago,” he said. “It’s scary. There’s a generation of kids growing up with no morals, no ethics, no sense of right or wrong.”

Skaggs said national studies show children watch two hours of TV for every hour spent in school, and the average parent spends less than eight minutes a day talking with his or her children.

“American parents have got to put more time and energy into their kids,” Skaggs said. “Kids are raised by what’s on TV, not interaction with Mom and Dad.”

Skaggs encourages all parents to increase interaction with their children, and, very importantly, to do it while they’re young. A majority of a child’s personality is formed before they enter Kindergarten, and teen-agers who will feel emotions such as isolation, anger and alienation show warning signs early on.

Two Parents Symposiums are scheduled for the end of April, one at the Valley and one at the Lake. Gerson said the meetings are a chance for parents and other adults to learn about child-parent communication, how to recognize problems, how to deal with discipline and a variety of other topics.

The Valley’s symposium is scheduled on April 21 at Douglas High School, and the Lake’s is at George Whittell High School on April 29. Both are scheduled to run from 6 to 9:30 p.m.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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