Concerned about increasing school violence, about 100 people Tuesday attended a public hearing at City Hall aimed at finding ways to block weapons and stem fears on school campuses.
What the audience heard, however, was not encouraging.
"There is a climate of hostility in the hallways," said Nina Winn, a representative of the Orange County Department of Education. "We as adults have betrayed our children."
The meeting, sponsored by Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), seemed especially urgent to parents here because of two recent incidents in which boys brought loaded guns and knives to schools.
"School violence is on the verge of becoming an epidemic," said Allen, who sits on the Republican Caucus Task Force on Youth and Gang Violence. "I'm extremely and vitally concerned about the safety of students."
In Orange County alone, 400 students have been expelled from schools in the last three years for carrying weapons. Thirty of those expulsions were in Huntington Beach. But the problem of weapons on campus is no longer limited to gang members or disturbed youths, speakers said. Now, many students are arming themselves due to fear of attack by other students.
George Butterfield, deputy director of the National School Safety Center, said that one in every 12 students nationwide has admitted staying home from school on occasion because of fear of being assaulted. An alarming 9% of students in the nation said they have fired a weapon.
Many of the speakers at the meeting said schools need to take a stronger stance to prevent violence. Among the suggestions offered Tuesday were: start safety task forces at schools, train educators to be aware of problem situations, place disruptive students in alternative schools, use metal detectors and drug sniffing dogs, enforce anti-gang dress codes and teach students how to mediate conflicts nonviolently.
Winn said that school officials need to work with police, the district attorney and community leaders to fight the problem.
"Interagency collaboration is the name of the game," said Winn, director of a program in Fullerton called CUFFS--Community United for Fullerton Safety. She added that schools and other government agencies must commit financial resources to stem the problem.
"If we don't pay now," she said, "we will pay dearly later."