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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Coats don't kill people; people do.

It's a cold winter day, and tiny snowflakes dust through the air. My children stand at the door trying to decide whether or not to wear coats. It isn't that they like being cold, but they are victims of unreasonable academic responses to school violence. We live in the small town of Moses Lake, where the first of the school shootings took place. Some say that school violence is on the decrease and some say it is increasing. To the local school district, though, it doesn't make much difference what the trends are; what's done is done, and local officials remain on guard against any possibility of potential violence.

The ridiculous part is that none of the measures the local schools are taking would have prevented the tragedy that triggered these measures in the first place. The schools must do something, though, so they they enthusiastically do something. Anything. Regardless of its effectiveness, and regardless of the cost to innocent students.

Our junior high daughter is not allowed to wear a coat to class. Eight years ago Barry Loukaitis hid guns in a trenchcoat, so by jove the kids will not wear coats. They must stow them in lockers, and shiver in classrooms and passageways. The other option is to wear sweatshirts, which are allowed, and shiver to and from school.

Our highschoolers, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. To prevent school violence, their school has eliminated lockers. So while the junior highschoolers may not wear their coats to class, the highschoolers are required to wear them. But to compensate, they've outlawed trenchcoats. Evidently even the most violent sort of student, if he cannot wear the trenchcoat, will suddenly be peaceful. Students, I suppose, wouldn't be smart enough to figure out other places to hide weapons, if they were so inclined.

The other middle school, across town, is where the shooting took place. They consequently feel a stronger need to take an active role in preventing future occurrances. Rumor has it that, to prevent registered students from shooting one another in the future, they have adopted name tags to keep non-students off campus.

I'm feeling kind of stupid for not following the logic here.

In all of these useless knee-jerk reactions, the one thing I haven't seen is an increased effort at preventing bullying of the sort that set off Barry Loukaitis almost 8 years ago. They try, but they still miss the point. Our third grader came home with a handout about bullying, and what it is. It said emphatically that nobody has the right to bully you. Well, Barry knew that, too. But he didn't know how to control his anger when it happened anyway. Telling children that they have a right not to be bullied doesn't prevent bullying; teacher interference does. Better supervision, not name tags or shivering arms, is what makes the difference.

Extreme reactions like eliminating coats or lockers are usually too little -- or too much -- too late. Preventing non-students from being on campus does nothing to prevent registered students from doing what Barry did. If a kid is determined enough to do harm, he will find a way, with or without a trenchcoat. The key is to help kids not to reach that point of desolation in the first place.

And the only way to do that is with human involvement and concern.