Newslines— Wichita district targets unsafe student drivers

Faced with mounting safety concerns, Wichita, Kansas, school officials are bringing in more armed officers. But these officers won’t be patrolling hallways or lunchrooms. They’ll be out in the parking lots—and the guns they’ll carry will be radar guns.

In an effort to crack down on reckless driving on school campuses and beef up education about pedestrian, bicycle, and traffic safety, the district has hired two full-time traffic safety officers.

“Anyone who’s been in one of our high school parking lots when the kids get out at 3 o’clock knows the need we have for some kind of focused safety program,” said Galen Davis, director of safety services for the Wichita district.

The program, funded by a three-year, $293,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation, is expected to begin within several weeks.

The traffic officers will supplement existing school security staff and Wichita police officers assigned to the district’s middle and high schools, Davis said.

“What it means for all grade levels is that there are two individuals whose full-time job is to help our children be safer,” he said. “We’re focusing on education as well as enforcement.”

A typical day for one officer might include speaking to kindergartners about crosswalk safety or seat belts, holding a bicycle safety session at a middle school, talking to high-schoolers about the dangers of drinking and driving, and patrolling a high school parking lot at day’s end.

Chuck McLean, principal at Northwest High School, welcomes the help.

“There’s definitely a little bit of ‘Get the you-know-what out of the way, here I come,'” McLean said. “I wish everyone would drive 10 miles an hour and be courteous to one another, but there are always going to be those kids who don’t want to follow the rules.”

Students who drive unsafely on school grounds don’t get city traffic citations. But they are issued school tickets and fined $10 for each infraction. After three tickets—or one particularly serious incident—they can lose their driving privileges for the semester. n

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Newslines–Doctor advises review of school records for dioxin effects

A review of Calcasieu Parish, La., school records could tip off researchers as to whether pollution in the area has affected students’ ability to learn, a toxic substance specialist said.

Earlier this year, researchers ran blood tests for Mossville, La., residents and found higher-than-normal levels of dioxin, which scientists have associated with cancer, birth defects, and skin ailments.

Peter Orris, a doctor at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital and a consultant for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said dioxin also has been linked to concentration and other learning problems.

Reviewing student performance, along with certain types of testing, should help researchers identify whatever learning disabilities exist because of area pollution, Orris said.

Mossville residents were told in April about relatively high dioxin levels.

Doctors had drawn blood from 28 longtime residents and sent it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which found above average amounts of dioxin in 12 people. Four of those had levels 2-3 times higher than normal.

Dioxin is a byproduct in the manufacture of chlorine and vinyl products.

Researchers have yet to pinpoint the source of dioxin in the area. Officials with local industry, which includes a Condea-Vista plant in Mossville and other factories in the Lake Charles area, say they are trying to determine where the substance is coming from as well.

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California passes law to equip school buses with safety belts

California Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation requiring safety lap belts and shoulder harnesses on all new school buses starting in 2002, but giving California an emergency exit if the federal government prohibits such restraints.

The bill’s signing capped a tenacious campaign by Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) to provide an extra measure of safety for more than 1 million California children who ride the vehicles to and from school. Although New York and New Jersey long have required safety belts on school buses, Gallegos said the new law puts California “light years ahead of other states.”

Effective Jan. 1, 2002, every new school bus purchased or leased for use in California must be equipped with a combination of lap and shoulder belts for each passenger. Buses transporting elementary students would receive first priority.

Aware that the federal government is studying how to make young passengers safer in school buses, Gallegos included an exit clause in the legislation that would prohibit the installation of lap and shoulder belts if the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration specifically forbids them.

The federal agency has been studying seat belts and other restraining mechanisms for school buses and is expected to issue its findings next summer.

In September, the National Transportation Safety Board, a related agency, announced its own study and recommended against the lap and shoulder belts. Among other things, it found that bus seats were too slippery and flat for belt restraints to be effective.

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Bush plan would shield educators from discipline-based lawsuits

Bush plan would shield educators from discipline- based lawsuits

Allowing teachers to reasonably enforce discipline and providing more character education for students would improve safety at America’s schools, Texas Gov. George W. Bush said in a campaign speech given in Gorham, N.H., Nov. 2.

In his education safety plan, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination said states and districts should have to provide children the option of transferring out of schools that remain unsafe. Under his program, he said, “No parent in America—no matter their income—would be forced to send their children to a school where violence reigns.”

Bush also proposed a law that would protect school officials from federal lawsuits when trying to enforce discipline reasonably.

“The real problem comes not when children challenge the rules, but when adults don’t defend the rules,” he said. “Many schools, intimidated by the threat of lawsuits, have watered down their standards of behavior. In many cases, adults are in authority, but not in control.”

Among his other proposals:

• Barring any juvenile guilty of a serious gun offense from ever owning a gun;

• Tripling the funding for character education in schools;

• Increasing abstinence education in schools to the level of attention given to contraception; and

• Allowing voluntary expressions of religious faith in schools, including reading Bibles, saying grace before meals, and wearing religious symbols like the cross and the Star of David.

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New software could help administrators recognize warning signs of violence

School administrators who are concerned about tracking and predicting potentially violent behavior in their students soon will have access to a new software program that promises to help do this automatically.

The software, MOSAIC-2000, will be installed as a pilot program in 25 schools nationwide. It was developed by nationally-known violence prediction expert Gavin de Becker.

de Becker, who lives in Los Angeles, provides high-level protection for celebrities and public figures and has written two best-selling books on personal safety: “The Gift of Fear” and, most recently, “Protecting The Gift,” a parent’s guide for ensuring their children’s safety.

The result of more than ten years of research on violence and personal safety, MOSAIC-2000 is an advanced computer-aided assessment system that provides guidance in the evaluation of situations that might escalate to violence.

According to the product’s makers, the program works by drawing on research, expert opinion, and the study of more than 350,000 communications and 24,000 cases. Once new information is compared against this huge database, the program codes and assigns value to interrelated aspects of a case. The case screening results tell evaluators to what degree a case is similar to those that involve violence.

MOSAIC-2000 was developed for schools on the premise that every administrator has a method for evaluating students who make threats of violence, but no method for recording and analyzing these threats in an organized fashion for long-term examination. The program was designed to bring uniformity, structure, expert opinion, and validity to high-stakes evaluations such as these.

According to de Becker, MOSAIC-2000 allows educators to receive answers to questions such as:

• What is most important for me to learn about this situation?

• What information will most inform my evaluation?

• How can I organize all the information I gather to weigh it all most effectively?

• What factors and warning sings are most relevant to future behavior?

• How can I express and document my conclusions?

For educational purposes, the system works like this:

• An administrator or counselor sits down with a student who has crossed a disciplinary line of some sort, such as making a threat.

• The student must answer questions about his behavior, which include information about movies and music the child favors; history of family problems or abuse; and behavioral indicators, like animal abuse.

• The software then compares these answers with the other recorded cases in the database to determine the possibility of future violence for that student.

Different versions of the MOSAIC software currently are being used for violence assessment by the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the CIA, and the U.S. Marshall’s Office.

The program has received enthusiastic responses from law enforcement and government security agencies alike, de Becker said. A deputy director of the U.S. Marshals Service told de Becker, “Adding MOSAIC to our threat assessment capabilities will vastly increase out ability to make accurate, intelligent assessments. You have done the Federal Judiciary a great service.”

Ohio is one of the states with schools participating in the MOSIAC-2000 pilot program, thanks to the endorsements of Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery and State Schools Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman.

Montgomery will consider funding the software for Ohio schools if the pilot program is successful, said Chris Davey, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. Indicators that the program is working to counteract violence could include decreases in students suspensions or expulsions or a documented intervention that prevented violence, Davey said.

“We’ve tried getting tough, banning book bags, putting cameras in schools—sometimes you feel you’ve tried everything,” he said. “Here’s a guy who says we can predict it and stop it before it ever happens. If someone is stepping up to the plate, we need to take notice of it.”

The estimated cost of installing MOSAIC-2000 is $1,000 per district. The final version of the software is due for release in March 2000.

Links:

Gavin de Becker Inc., 11684 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 440, Studio City, CA 91604; fax (818) 506-0426, eMail infoline@gdbinc.com, web http://www.gdbinc.com.

Ohio Attorney General’s Office, (614) 466- 4320, http://www.ag.state.oh.us.

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FYI: New school health

Diversity and tolerance workshops

Paradigm Group International, a leading professional development company with more than 500 clients in the education marketplace, is providing diversity and tolerance workshops for educational communities. The workshops prepare teachers, adminsitators, and parents to infuse tolerance into their contact with young people and teach about diversity. These workshops fall under most state “action plans” for school safety planning, Paradigm said.

(877) 443-9943

http://www.stwnews.org/diversity/index.htm

You Can Handle Them All

This web site provides educators with a complete, step-by-step approach to handling student misbehavior in school. An overview of behavioral problems examines the root causes of misbehavior, and an index of behaviors shows you how to apply the site’s four-step discipline model to more than 100 specific types of problems. According to the site’s creator, a company called The MASTER Teacher, the discipline model contained in this web site will help you understand how to handle discipline concerns effectively and keep yourself in control of the situation, while enabling you and your colleagues to work together for a mutually satisfying solution to student problems.

http://www.disciplinehelp.com

New anti-drug web sites

The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a new five-year, $1 billion initiative from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), has sponsored the development of two new web sites designed to change youth attitudes toward drug use. “Freevibe” is a kid’s drug education web site sponsored by ABC/Disney, the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, and the ONDCP. “A Teacher’s Guide to Freevibe” provides educators with lesson plans, activities, and discussion guides they can use to get anti-drug messages across to their students.

Freevibe: http://www.freevibe.com

The Freevibe Teacher’s Guide: http:// www.theschoolzone.org/guide n

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Clinton seeks schools’ aid on uninsured children

In his latest effort to reduce the number of Americans lacking health insurance, President Clinton called on public schools Oct. 12 to play a bigger part in identifying and enrolling millions of children who are eligible for, but not participating in, federal health insurance programs.

“There are over 10 million uninsured children nationwide,” Clinton said in an address to 8,000 pediatricians meeting in Washington. “Although aggressive implementation of CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Program] has enrolled over one million children—with states expecting enrollment to more than double over the next year—more must be done to ensure the success of this program.”

The president plans to dedicate $9.5 million in research funds “to identify effective children’s health insurance strategies.” He said some states, notably New Jersey and Indiana, already use public schools as sites to enroll children in CHIP and Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor and disabled.

Clinton specified that some of CHIP’s $24 billion in funding can be used for administrative purposes, such as enrollment. The president also encouraged the Republican-led Congress to appropriate more funds to discourage youth smoking, promote childhood immunizations, and finance graduate medical education at children’s hospitals.

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Law & Ethics:

Everyone offered a public school teaching job in one Tennessee county can be required to take a drug test, following the Supreme Court’s rejection of a challenge by teachers who say the tests violate their rights.

The justices’ action, taken without comment Oct. 4, set no legal precedent but likely will add fuel to the national debate over school drug testing and could encourage other districts to enact similar policies. The teachers’ appeal was one of hundreds turned down by the court as it opened its 1999-2000 term.

“If our children are not important enough and their safety and educational progress are not important enough to justify this limited drug testing, I don’t know what would be,” said Richard T. Beeler, attorney for the Knox County Board of Education, which adopted the drug-testing program in 1994.

The teachers contended the tests amount to an unreasonable search under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment if officials do not suspect the tested individual of using drugs.

The Knox County policy requires everyone offered a job considered “safety sensitive” to undergo urinalysis drug testing. Jobs considered safety sensitive include teachers, principals and assistant principals, teacher aides, school secretaries, and bus drivers.

The policy was challenged in federal court by the Knox County Education Association, an organization of teachers, principals, and other school employees.

A federal judge threw out the suspicionless testing requirement after finding there was no documented evidence of a drug abuse problem among teachers.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling in September 1998. The appeals court said even without evidence of a drug problem among teachers, drug testing is justified by the “unique role” teachers play in children’s lives.

Teachers and principals are “front-line observers in providing for a safe school environment,” the appeals court said.

The Knox County schools’ director of human resources, Betty Sue Sparks, said 1,064 people have been tested since last November. Fewer than 10 tested positive for drug use, and none of them were hired, she said.

In past rulings, the Supreme Court has said the government can require drug testing of customs agents and railroad employees involved in serious accidents. The justices also have let public schools require student athletes to undergo drug testing.

But in 1997, the justices ruled that states cannot force political candidates to take drug tests merely to demonstrate the government’s commitment to the war on drugs.

The Knox County teachers’ appeal said the drug testing policy was so broad that even taking cough syrup could lead to a positive result.

The school board’s lawyers argued that evidence of drug use by teachers is not necessary to justify a drug-testing plan. Teachers must stay alert to ensure student safety, they said.

The Supreme Court’s action could make it easier for metropolitan Nashville schools to move ahead in their plans to require drug testing of such applicants, said Graciela Escobedo, assistant superintendent for human resources.

Metro Nashville schools have pushed to test teachers when they are hired, transferred, promoted, involved in a serious traffic accident, or suspected of using drugs. Metro schools now require only bus drivers to take drug tests when applying for jobs, Escobedo said.

The Supreme Court case is Knox County Education Association vs. Knox County Board of Education, 98-1799.

Links:

United States Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Washington DC 20543; phone (202) 479 3000.

Knox County Schools, P.O. Box 2188, Knoxville, TN 37901-2188; phone (423) 594-1800, web http://www.korrnet. org/kcschool. n

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High school educators screen teens for signs of depression

For a student, it’s in some ways the ideal test: no studying needed; no correct answers; not even a name required. The results, however, could have serious implications for the 1,100 Holliston High School students who recently took a depression screening survey.

Organizers hope the questionnaire will lead to help for the 5 to 8 percent of high schoolers estimated to be clinically depressed.

The suburban Massachusetts high school is among a small, and slowly growing, number of schools participating in National Depression Screening Day, held this year on Oct. 7.

Some 3,000 sites across the country joined in this year’s screening, the ninth annual. While hundreds of college campuses offer the screenings, only a few high schools take part.

In addition to Massachusetts, schools in Delaware, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are among the 15 high schools that participated, according to the National Mental Illness Screening Project, which administers the program.

Holliston students answered 27 questions—Do they feel hopeless? Have trouble concentrating? Feel sad? Contemplate suicide?—on a scale of zero to 2.

Students tallied up their points themselves after being told that scores of 20 or higher may indicate depression. The questionnaire was accompanied by names and telephone numbers to call for support.

A high number doesn’t automatically equal depression, said school psychologist Donna Moilanen, who expects about 10 percent of students scored in that range. “It means there’s cause for concern, and we need to sit down and get that student some help.”

The trouble is, administrators won’t know which students scored high because the screenings are anonymous. The students themselves must come forward if they want help.

“My concern is we’re going to have an inventory come back saying this kid is suicidal, this kid is going off the chart on this—and we’re not going to know who that kid is,” she said.

The school decided to give the screenings after seeing the results of a state behavior survey taken by Holliston students last year. Nearly one-quarter of the students said they had experienced suicidal thoughts, and 12 percent said they had tried to kill themselves.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds nationally, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Suicide has more than doubled for this age group since 1950, though some of that may be attributed to better reporting.

While societal stigma against depression is easing among adults, it remains taboo among teen-agers, said Carol Glod, who studies teen-age depression at McLean Hospital in Belmont and teaches the subject at Northeastern University.

“Teen-agers and parents of teen-agers are very concerned about depression, but it’s still a bad word,” she said. “No kid wants to say they’re depressed and no parent wants to say ‘My child has an illness that’s psychiatric.'”

Depression screenings won’t prevent violence witnessed in school shootings around the nation recently, experts said. It’s not clear, for example, whether a screening would have alerted administrators to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the students who killed themselves and 13 others in Littleton, Colo.

But helping students recognize the signs of depression—and helping them seek professional counseling—are worthy enough goals in themselves, school officials said.

“As parents, we do everything and anything to help our kids,” said Karen Bresnahan, a parent of a senior at Holliston High who took the survey. “It’s wonderful the schools care, too.”

The average age of depression onset has been dropping over the years and now hovers around 30, down from 40 several decades ago. An estimated 17 million to 20 million Americans suffer from depression each year.

Between 500,000 and 800,000 American teen-agers will experience clinical depression each year, said Dr. Douglas Jacobs, who founded National Depression Screening Day.

Depression is a difficult diagnosis to make among teen-agers because the symptoms—irritability, low self-esteem, and poor performance—get confused with the angst of being a teen-ager,” he said.

Links:

Holliston High School, 370 Hollis St, Holliston, MA 01746; phone (508) 429-0677.

National Depression Screening Day, (800) 573-4433, http://www.nmisp.org/depression.htm.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 120 Wall Street, 22nd Floor, New York, New York 10005; phone (888) 333-AFSP, fax (212) 363-6237, web http://www.afsp.org.

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Berkeley aims to dish up pesticide-free lunches

The humble school lunch is about to turn into food for thought under an ambitious plan by the Berkeley, Calif., Unified School District to bring organic fare to cafeteria tables.

The new policy adopted by the Berkeley school board hopes to revolutionize lunch and reshape the way students think about food by encouraging them to not only eat their veggies, but grow them, too.

“We want the cafeteria to be a learning experience,” said Tom Bates, a former state assemblyman who now heads the Berkeley Food Systems Project, which has been working with the district on its new food policy.

The organic dynamic stems from school Superintendent Jack McLaughlin’s desire to do something about school lunches and student health, says district spokeswoman Karen Sarlo.

“School lunches are horrible, not only in our school district,” Sarlo said. “Would it cost that much more to make the food good and fresh?”

While many schools are trying to get more fresh fruit and vegetables on to their menus, Berkeley’s comprehensive approach seems fairly unique, said U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Susan Acker.

Berkeley already has experience in consumption as curriculum.

Under the Edible Schoolyard program started by chef Alice Waters, who created the California cuisine craze at Berkeley’s renowned Chez Panisse restaurant, students at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School work in a school garden and kitchen.

The new policy will start more school gardens and incorporate eating, gardening, and nutrition into the curriculum. A garden planning session, for instance, might be an opportunity for a math exercise calculating the area of vegetable plots.

Teachers also will get an education in eating, with regular training on nutrition and agriculture.

Although it is far-reaching, Berkeley’s new plan is couched in terms of goals rather than edicts, phasing in organic food as it becomes available. Eventually, the district hopes to have an all-natural menu where even the milk comes from cows not injected with bovine growth hormones.

One immediate obstacle is price. Organic food generally is more expensive than conventionally grown produce, in some cases quite a bit more, but the school will have to work with fixed USDA lunch reimbursement rates. Bates said costs can be kept down by dealing with local growers and buying in bulk.

Another problem will be persuading the Twinkie generation to swallow their grandparents’ axiom of an apple—and more—a day.

Cameron Carr-Johnson, 18, a recent graduate of Berkeley High, ran taste tests this summer on organic foods being considered for the school cafeteria and found tasters went for “all the sweets, basically.” He thinks organic lunches are a great idea, but predicts other students may take more convincing.

School officials will focus on younger students on the theory that they may be more open to giving up high-fat, high-sugar snacks.

Bruce Ames, director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Environmental Health Science Center, applauds the effort to get students more interested in growing and eating fruits and vegetables.

But he says there’s no evidence that traces of pesticide residue are a serious health hazard, and scaring people off conventionally grown produce could be dangerous.

“If there’s something foolish, Berkeley does it first,” he said with a chuckle.

Link:

Berkeley Unified School District, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704; phone (510) 644-6147, web http://www.berkeley.k12.ca.us.

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