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Fatal Shooting at School Prompts Project to Spread Anti-Weapons Message

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shortly after a student was gunned down on campus, Reseda High School teacher Jay Shaffer wrote a rap lyric to express his outrage:

School’s a place for learnin’

School’s a place for fun

And that sure ain’t gonna happen

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If someone brings a gun

Then he had another inspiration. Why not bring his anti-weapons message to the more than 600 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District?

Thus was born a program called WARN (Weapons Are Removed Now), which sends high school students to nearby junior high and elementary schools to caution younger students about the dangers of guns and other weapons.

City officials praised the program Thursday at a hearing at Reseda High School on violence prevention and urged other high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to adopt it.

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“I think it’s an excellent program, and I pledge my support,” said City Councilman Mike Hernandez, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Violence in Schools.

Despite the accolades, Shaffer, 50, said other schools have been slow to pick up the program, probably because of a lack of teachers willing to donate their time to supervising it.

“A lot of teachers might think it’s just one more thing to do without compensation,” said Shaffer, a history teacher for 28 years. “But we’ve got to stop the madness.”

In the 1991-92 school year, 1,403 weapons were confiscated in the district. Already this year, more than a dozen students have been expelled from the district under a tougher gun policy instituted after the Jan. 21 killing of a teen-ager at Fairfax High School by a fellow student.

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Under the WARN program, Reseda High students urge youngsters to “break the code of silence” and report fellow students who bring guns and knives to school. In one skit performed by WARN volunteers, for instance, a student who fails to report her best friend for bringing a gun to class suffers tremendous guilt when her friend accidentally kills herself with the weapon.

Manipulative as the skit may seem, its plot is similar to what actually happened after 15-year-old Robert Heard confronted 17-year-old Michael Shean Ensley in a corridor of Reseda High’s science building Feb. 22 during a midmorning snack break and fired once, hitting Ensley in the chest as other students watched, Shaffer said. Ensley was killed instantly.

Police declined to characterize the shooting as gang-related, but said both boys were involved in “tagging,” or marking property with graffiti.

“The day after the shooting, six kids told our assistant principal they knew he had a gun, and now they’re racked by guilt,” Shaffer said.

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About 40 of the 2,000 students enrolled at Reseda High School are involved in the program, visiting other schools and passing out information and buttons with the WARN logo.

“I’m sick of being afraid,” said Iman Dakhil, 15, a volunteer in her sophomore year. “I don’t want anything like that shooting to happen again.”

“Kids would rather listen to their peers than be lectured by their teachers,” added Ali Hematyar, a 17-year-old senior.

Reseda High Principal Robert E. Kladifko said several students have called the district’s hot line to report the presence of guns at the school since the WARN program began, but most of the tips were prank calls.

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“It’s still a great program, a deterrent,” Kladifko said.

Shaffer is dedicated to spreading the program to other schools even though it eats up his spare time.

“I’ve never been one of those teachers who works 8 to 3,” said Shaffer, who prefers teaching although he has a law degree and administrative credential.

“We must get the message out that weapons are wrong and telling on people who have them is right.”

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