Expensive security systems are not the answer to keeping violence away from Washington, D.C.’s high schools, say educators. At Ballou Senior High School, one student was killed and one was wounded in a shooting yesterday outside the cafeteria. The Washington Post says most D.C. high schools have installed metal detectors at the main entrance. But at least five shootings — three fatal — have taken place inside school buildings in the past decade. School officials say that unless schools post a guard at every doorway, there is no way to guarantee that a student won’t sneak in a weapon. At the 1,100-student Ballou, which has 12 security officers and two police officers, students say they can walk through the detectors unchecked even after setting the machine off or avoid the apparatus entirely.
Experts say educators are increasingly turning to programs that teach youngsters to resolve conflicts peacefully, to mediate disputes among peers, and to tell someone in authority if a student is armed or planning violence. “We need to concentrate on the people side of prevention,” said Pamela Riley, a former school principal now with the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere. “We have to create in that school that atmosphere of trust, where young people are comfortable reporting something that could occur.”
Suburban school officials, where high schools generally have security guards but not metal detectors, said they, too, are emphasizing communication. “We think eyes and ears . . . are our best resources,” said Don Mercer, director of risk management and security for Prince William County, Va., schools. Edward Clark, security director for Montgomery County schools, said students are “alert” and quick to report perceived problems.