Security panic in wake of shooting;Briefing;International

28th May 1999 at 01:00
United States.

Tensions remain high in American schools this week after a Georgia student went on a shooting rampage one month after the Columbine high-school killings in Littleton, Colarado.

A 15-year-old boy wounded six students and threatened suicide before handing his gun to his principal.

A rash of bomb scares and arrests of students accused of plotting shooting incidents have followed the Littleton massacre in which 14 students and a teacher died.

In Port Huron, Michigan, four boys in their early teens face murder conspiracy charges, accused of planning an attack on a school assembly. After their arrest, a bomb was found and defused.

The Georgia shootings came on the day that President Bill Clinton made his first trip to Colorado to offer his sympathy to the Columbine victims.

No one suffered life-threatening injuries and the gunman, who at one point placed the gun in his own mouth, was said to be angry over a broken romance.

But a slew of solutions are now being offered to schools and teachers to avoid further episodes of lethal violence, from "zero tolerance" for weapons or indiscipline to "conflict resolution" classes. With blame being levelled at both America's gun lobby and violent video games, there are calls for teachers to carry everything from cellphones to sidearms.

In California, Governor Gray Davis said he had persuaded a local cellular phone company, AirTouch, to donate 10,000 phones to high schools in Los Angeles and other state school districts. He will lobby other companies to do the same, he said, until every high-school teacher - about 65,000 people - has a phone.

Many schools had already adopted crisis plans for a shooting, but the Littleton massacre has brought a new sense of urgency.

"Folks are looking at more ways of having stronger security, whether it be security guards, camera systems or emergency lock-downs where you can lock all the doors with a flip of a switch," said Kathy Christie, from the Education Commission of the States in Denver.

At a meeting of the National Rifle Association in Denver, meanwhile, gun enthusiasts offered a more radical solution: giving more people, including teachers, the right to carry concealed weapons.

Colorado teacher John Studholme, however, joined a march demanding greater gun control. "It's a strange and awful feeling to be suspicious of the kids you work with," he said.

American schools are one of the biggest markets in the world for metal detectors - about one-third of urban and suburban schools have them. Surveys show that 90 per cent of these schools have two-way radio systems, 86 per cent have burglar alarms, 64 per cent have emergency communications systems and 60 per cent use video surveillance.

Recent research also suggests that smaller is better in schools. Columbine high school has 2,000 students, and schools of up to 3,000 pupils are not uncommon.

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