School conference draws 1,000

By Greg Gelpi

If he can organize a rescue mission in a war zone, he can offer advice for securing schools.

From bullying to terrorism, Southern Crescent law enforcement and educators will learn the ins and outs of school safety on Monday.

Representatives from both Henry and Clayton counties will network and develop a greater understanding of school safety during the Second Annual School Safety Conference hosted by the Clayton County Police Department.

Experts will include school safety expert and author of 18 school safety books Michael Dorn, his son Chris Dorn, who will demonstrate how 150 weapons can be concealed on him and retired U.S. Army Col. Danny McKnight, who led the 1993 rescue mission in Somalia depicted in the Hollywood movie "Black Hawk Down."

"We cannot afford to be complacent," McKnight, who coordinates homeland security for Brevard County in Florida, said. "I have very serious concerns about (schools)."

With his more than 28 years of military experience and works in homeland security, he said many of the same problems plague schools.

While other speakers will make presentations on specific topics, McKnight said his focus will be motivation.

"What I talk about more than anything is commitment," he said. "The motivational piece is about that special commitment you have to each other."

McKnight, who commanded about 200 soldiers in Somalia, said the belief in leaving no soldier behind which led his soldiers to rescuing the downed Black Hawk helicopter crew in Mogadishu must be in all law enforcement and educators. They must adapt and revise school security, specifically evacuation plans, and policy in light of domestic violence and international terrorism.

Somalis killed 18 of his soldiers and wounded 73 more. Tom Sizemore portrayed McKnight in the movie.

Chris Dorn, a 20-year-old college student, will demonstrate the ease in which weapons can be concealed. During his presentation, he will remove about 150 weapons he has concealed on his body, including a rifle and a sword.

The head of Clayton County's students resource officers said the conference gives law enforcement the chance to mingle with and learn from experts.

"It's designed for law enforcement, public safety officials and educators to come together and have a better outlook for kids," Lt. Greg Porter, the commander of the school resource office, said. "More or less we're trying to be proactive in a number of aspects."

With the urban sprawl of Atlanta, Clayton County is experiencing more urban crime, particularly gang activity, Porter said.

"We're like a lot of other metropolitan counties," he said. "We come into contact with a lot of metropolitan type of crimes as opposed to what it used to be years ago."

Gang activity caused Clayton County high schools to increase security and even caused Morrow High to cancel its homecoming parade in November.

Another type of school violence is bullying, which often leads to more violence, Mike Dorn said. He will tell educators and law enforcement about identifying and dealing with bullying, talking about a student he dealt with who had been abused more than 100 times.

"He never told any educators about it," Mike Dorn said. "A lot of people have this notion that if a kid is bullied he'll tell a teacher."

He said the problem is "extremely severe" and leads to suicides, dropping out and a cycle of violence.

"It's a lot more common than even school administrators think," Mike Dorn said.

About 160,000 students stay home each day because of fear of bullying, he said.

School violence was averted at one local high school. Last year, a plot to turn Lovejoy High School into a Columbine-style massacre was foiled by students who informed school officials. Columbine, a school in Littleton, Colo., was the site where two students killed 15 people in 1999.