CHEVY CHASE – President George W. Bush told top Cabinet officials Tuesday to come up with specific steps to prevent school violence at a White House-sponsored forum on safety in American schools.
Speaking as part of a panel discussion, Bush told two cabinet secretaries who appeared with him, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, that he wanted “concrete results.”
“I presume out of this (forum) there will be a series of best practices,” Bush told Gonzales and Spellings before a standing-room-only crowd at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase.
Several panels over the course of the day met to discuss both prevention of school violence and recovery after a violent incident.
“A lot of our focus ought to be on preventing,” Bush said, addressing the final panel of the day. “Prevention makes recovery not necessary.”
By way of prevention, Bush said he would like to see better teacher and administrator training on what he called the “early warning signs” that a student may be planning an act of violence.
He encouraged Spellings and other panelists to make sure school principals let other students know that it is all right to say something if a classmate is threatening violence.
Daniel Gross, co-founder of PAX, a New York-based gun violence prevention group, told the panel before the president arrived that 80 percent of students who kill tell others about their plans before they act.
The president also questioned the effectiveness of metal detectors in schools in response to a statement by Gonzales that one in five shootings on school property occur outside the building. He did not directly address the challenge of keeping non-school personnel from entering schools and harming students, which was the case in the Oct. 2 Amish school shooting in Lancaster, Pa.
In his remarks, Bush made no direct reference to the Lancaster shootings, which left five students dead. But he said that “the violence that’s occurring in our schools is incredibly sad and it troubles a lot of folks.”
“All of us in this country want our classrooms to be gentle places of learning,” Bush added.
During the question-and-answer session, several audience members criticized federal government response to the shootings, saying the Bush Administration was not doing enough to promote and fund character-building and intervention programs that may build self-esteem and prevent violence in schools. The president responded that the front lines of character building are parents and teachers, not the federal government. He insisted that the federal government should continue to only partially fund education, leaving most of the revenue-raising up to the states.