It's annual spring break time and an unusual thing is occurring. While the kids are letting off steam at the beaches, their teachers back home are preparing for events they pray will never happen.
At special conferences, at training sessions with SWAT team drills and with the purchase of more and more security safeguards, educators are preparing for what many of them have come to view as the most dangerous time of the year.
"As we approach the spring months, school officials are on high alert because they know that this has been a time of the year when there has traditionally been more violence than the rest of the year," says Ronald Stephens, Executive Director of the National School Safety Center.
No one's calling it a trend yet, but the anecdotal evidence is strong: Jonesboro Ark. in late March, Edinboro, Pa. in April. The Springfield, Ore. mass shooting occurred in May. And of course, there was Columbine on April 20 one year ago.
In fact, of all 103 violent school deaths tracked since the start of the 1996 school year, 50 -- that's 48 percent -- occurred in the final third of the school year.
"Consequently we have school safety and security departments that are attempting to be extra vigilant for some of the early warning signs," Stephens says. "We have more law enforcement on campus."
Why is spring potentially more dangerous? No one can say for sure, although some educators believe kids may harbor their resentments until the end of the year, when their frustration boils over. And in today's atmosphere, notes juvenile violence expert Vincent Schraldi, every incident gets exaggerated attention.
"There's not a school shooter behind every locker waiting to kill your kid, Schraldi says. But when it happens, it gets a lot of publicity. It scares the bejesus out of us. It scares me. But the overall message is, the data is showing good news both in terms of killings, violence, fights, injuries. They're all declining and declining fairly sharply."
The numbers prove it. Despite Columbine, violent deaths in schools actually dropped 40 percent last year over 1998.
That means there was only a one in two million chance of being killed in an American school last year. But that won't stop school boards from preparing for the worst this spring, and it sure hasn't stopped parents from worrying. A recent poll found that seven out of ten Americans believe a school shooting in their community is not only possible. They think it's likely.