Forest Park addresses school violence

By Todd DeFoe

Angel Johnson sees disruptions in her school "almost every day."

So, along with her mother, the Forest Park High School junior attended a town hall meeting Saturday focused on curtailing violence and disruptions within Clayton County schools. And one idea that might help, the Johnsons discussed before the meeting began: metal detectors.

"I think it would be better," Johnson said of the possibility of passing through one of the devices each morning on her way into school. "It would keep a lot of the violence out of the school."

Like Johnson, Marte Swanson attends Forest Park High School, but his day is often interrupted by only a handful of students who cause problems. Last week, for example, repeated fire alarms set off by troublemakers disrupted Swanson's academic routine.

"Quite frankly, it gets on my nerves," he said.

To deter unruly students from pulling fire alarms, Clayton County has worked to make it a more daunting task, such as installing dye packs on fire alarms throughout the high school, which spray blue dye onto the hand of anyone who pulls an alarm. Although several students have been identified as perpetrators in this recent spate of disturbances, it spells perhaps a greater problem in schools, one that brought community leaders, school officials, parents and students together Saturday.

For the roughly 100 people attending the town hall meeting, there was a common theme: everyone in the community can help when it comes to keeping children safe and out of trouble.

"We want to send the message that everybody has an important part to play," said Mack Bullard, principal of Forest Park Middle School. "From talking with kids, reading the newspaper and watching TV, you see things that are happening in the community. Those things trickle into the schools as well. ? It could be anything from truancy to teen pregnancy to juvenile crimes."

In response, Bullard said, officials want to "build a strong community partnership," which includes business leaders, area police agencies and local residents. This will improve the community as a whole and also keep students safe and out of trouble, Bullard added.

"Whatever happens in the community usually shows up in school," Clayton County Schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said. It might be possible to keep some trouble, such as gangs and violence, out of the school, "but as long as it's in the community, it's going to come back into the schools."

Gangs often prey on kids as they leave school, but don't spend great lengths of time waiting for them, meaning if students stay at school longer and participate in after school activities, they won't be on the streets.

"If you can delay going home, you can miss them," Pulliam said.

But, Robert Hodo, pastor of New Morning Light Baptist Church in Conley, Ga., says gangs aren't only about violence. Inviting gangs to a discussion, he contends, might thwart any potential problems.

"I think that would be a strong solution to solving to what we are having here," Hodo said.

Regardless, Swanson, a freshman at Forest Park High School, says only a handful of students, maybe five or 10, cause disruptions. Though that is enough to cause problems for other students, gatherings like Saturday's town hall meeting are a good start to addressing the problem, he said.

"I think it's good people care about the situation," Swanson said. It's important "to keep kids active so they won't be distracted" and cause problems.