Student threatens harm with a weapon

By Nancy Gutierrez

Last week administrators at Wilson Middle School were notified that an unnamed student was accused of threatening to bring a weapon to school with the intention of harming a group of students.

Wilson maintains a zero-tolerance policy, so students who make any terroristic threats, even as a prank, will be punished.

"Safety for students and staff is our number one priority," said Wilson Principal Rebecca Mestaz. "If a student is making threats to bring weapons to school or do destructive acts of any kind we will take that as a serious intent."

Mestaz contacted the district office and Exeter Police as well as the student's parents concerning the matter. She said because of the nature of the situation she had to involve local authorities.

"Students aren't making that connection that in the current climate they can't joke around about things like this," Mestaz said. "Kids this age are doing heinous acts."

Last week, a Visalia school was the target of a hoax involving a envelope full of white powder that was made to look like a terrorist attack involving anthrax bacteria. A seventh grader dropped the envelope in a hallway as a hoax. Officials were forced to evacuate the school until the substance could be identified.

In 2001 the Josephson Institute of Ethics produced a report card on the ethics of American youth for 2000. The report states that a majority of U.S. teens say they used violence in the past year, and one in five high school-age boys took a weapon to school. This is according to a survey administered nationally by randomly selected schools throughout the nation. The survey included responses from 15,877 middle and high school students.

Results from the eight-year-old biennial survey show that more than one in three students (39 percent of middle schoolers and 36 percent of high schoolers) said they don't feel safe at school.

In addition 43 percent of high school and 37 percent of middle school boys believed it is OK to hit or threaten a person who makes them angry. Nearly one in five (19 percent) of the girls agreed. An even higher percentage actually resorted to violence: 75 percent of all boys and over 60 percent of girls surveyed said they hit someone in the past 12 months because they were angry.

The survey also shows that more than one in five (21 percent) high school boys and 15 percent of middle school males took a weapon to school at least once in the past year.

In addition 60 percent of high school and 31 percent middle school boys said they could get a gun if they wanted to.

A nationwide survey of students was conducted in the fall of 1999 by USA Weekend in partnership with Teen People magazine and Channel One, a TV news program for schools. The Survey was taken by 129,593 students in grades six thruogh 12 from urban, suburban and rural schools, public and private. Respondents also took the survey in USA Weekend, at the magazine's web site, in Teen People, and through Channel One. Respondents were not polled at random but rather chose to respond. Findings showed that almost 50percent of the respondents reported having a gun in their home, and of those, more than half say they can get their hands on it and 4 in 10 respondents say a teen in their community could get a gun within a day. About 50percent of the respondents blame movies, video games, the Internet and TV for promoting violence among their peers. About 1 in 10 teens who responded to the survey admitted they have visited a hate or bomb-making site on the Internet (among boys, it's one in eight). Surprisingly, 4 in 10 respondents favor sending troubled students to alternative schools.

Mestaz could not specify what measure would be taken to discipline the student in question. Letters concerning the situation were sent out to parents May 7. Exeter Union School District will be holding a mock disaster drill in October to learn what to do in disaster situations, like having a shooter on campus.

"I see things happen and realize that we need to be ready for anything that could happen," Mestaz said. "Threats to inflict harm have to be taken seriously even if itt's a joke or hoax."

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