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Presentation gives peek behind school violence


“The world is dangerous place to live in not because of those who do evil but because of those who watch and let it happen.”--Albert Einstein.

These words--written on the final slide in OPP Det. Sgt. Jim Van Allen’s presentation on school violence at the Civic Centre here Monday night--best summed up the message of his thorough talk.

“As community members, we have quite an investment on the subject of school violence,” he noted. “I’ve certainly had an interest with the subject since the ’90s.

“But it compounded with the Columbine shootings of April, 1999, when all police departments were forced to become aware of the problem,” he added.

While only about 20 people--comprised of parents, teachers, and principals--attended Monday night’s presentation (the first of four held in the district), those who did said it was informative.

“It’s the third time I’ve seen this presentation. After the first time, I was woken up very quickly,” Fort Frances High School principal Ian Simpson said.

“I was involved in a school with a hostage-taking some 200 km away,” Simpson continued. “You comfortably put that in your past and hope it will never happen again--but it could.

“And that’s why I’m here.”

Simpson also said many of the measures outlined by Det. Sgt. Van Allen have been implemented at Fort High.

“I thought it was really informative,” said one local woman, who had attended a similar presentation by Det. Sgt. Van Allen earlier this year.

“It’s too bad more people didn’t show up. It had a lot to offer everyone,” she added.

Det. Sgt. Van Allen said tackling school violence, from a high school’s point-of-view, was a matter of:

•prevention (educational programs, harassment policies, identifying threats);

•planning for crises (security plans, partnerships with police); and

•ensuring damage control is in place if an incident occurs.

But he added curbing students from doing something as drastic as the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado also starts with teachers, peers, and police identifying possibly dangerous youths.

Factors to consider include student personality, family dynamics, school dynamics, and social factors. Such threats usually are either introverted or having a superiority complex but always exhibit attention-getting behaviour, noted Det. Sgt. Van Allen.

Family dynamics also often play a part, where the youth has a conflicted or non-existent relationship with a parent, a real or perceived failure to meet parental expectations, a propensity to collect/make violent drawings or writings, and easy access to weapons.

Key signs at school include violent drawings or letters, having only a small group of associates with narrow interests, and average to above-average grades.

Motives for violence include attention seeking, notoriety, animosity, avenging a perceived wrong, ending a personal pain, and bringing attention to a problem.

But most of all, Det. Sgt. Van Allen stressed the important role parents had in preventing school violence.

“Some of the kids are ruling the roost, and parents are intimidated to interfere,” he said. “They’re afraid to go into their room, to ask them ‘What are you doing in there?’

“Well, as long as your names on that deed, do it. If a parent is aware of a problem that could spill over into the school, they should notify the school,” he stressed.

“Things have swung from being [too strict with kids in school] to [too lenient], and I think it’s time to swing back in the other direction,” he remarked.

Other presentations were held Tuesday morning at the Civic Centre, that afternoon at Donald Young School in Emo, and then Tuesday night at Rainy River High School.

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