FBI Issues School Violence Guidelines

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The FBI said school officials should be alert to students who show "preoccupation with themes of violence" but cautioned that its two-year study of school shootings cannot be used to pinpoint teens likely to attack classmates or teachers.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports the study was done by the FBI's Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime at Quantico, best known for profiling the minds of serial killers.

The FBI insists it is "not a checklist," but it is nonetheless filled with checklist-type warning signs.

Teachers, for example, are cautioned to watch for students who display "recurring themes of violence in writing and artwork," students who are "rigid and opinionated" and tend to "rule the roost" at home.

And the study warns educators to watch for students who seem drawn to violent films, like shooter Michael Carneal of West Paducah, Kentucky and the two teen-agers involved in the Columbine massacre.

The study also recommends monitoring school computers to cut down on access to Web sites featuring violent games.

The report cautions school officials and stresses over again not to use the results to predict student behavior, or use those predictions to violate privacy rights.

Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist who represents school superintendents for the American Association of School Administrators, said school leaders do keep an eye on children who act strangely, many who exhibit some of the behaviors listed in the FBI report. Often troubled children are referred to the alternative classrooms and schools that have doubled in number in the last few years, he said.

But officially profiling students is not the answer, he said. "I doubt that would hold a lot of promise for us. Kids are forming their personalities."

Some agree that the governments input will lend a helping hand. Schools should evaluate all the help they get, even from the federal government, said Bill Modzeleski, director of the Department of Education's Safe and Drug-Free Schools program. His office worked with the Secret Service, feeling that such expertise that might be useful to educators.

"We're not saying law enforcement should not be a part of the solution; we are saying it should not be the solution," Modzeleski said. "We welcome law enforcement as partners."

But Vincent Schiraldi, an expert in juvenile justice, says involving the FBI in classroom security may be a mistake.

"I think that having the kind of profilers that we saw in Silence of the Lambs, who predict who is going to be committing multiple murders, turn their attentions to our schools, is not a good development," said Schiraldi, who is with the Justice Policy Institute.

He said giving frightened teachers another profile to watch for could add to what is already a rapidly growing number of questionable expulsions and suspensions.

"The ramifications for being wrong and falsely prediting that a kid will be a violent school assassin are profound for that kid; that's going to label that kid well into their future," Schiraldi says.

He believes that the media's saturation coverage of school shootings has had a profound impact on the American psyche. Schiraldi points out that:

  • While a child has only a one in 2 million chance of being killed in school, 71 percent of Americans believe a shooting is likely in their school.
  • Youth homicides have dropped 56 percent, yet almost two thirds of Americans believe juvenile crime is rising.
Schiraldi made several recommendations to make school environments safer:
  • He recommends that schools take the approach advocated by the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP). It provides students with a safe environment to explore peaceful ways of resolving conflict.
  • Bearing in mind that children' vitamins are required to have safety caps while guns have no such safety requirements, he says the gun industry's "deadly" exemption from regulation must end.

As the report notes, the public wants answers and action, even though the best answers to these tragedies would probably better be found in the home, and not in some government report.

Another federal law-enforcement agency, the Secret Service, will present a school-violence report to the Education Department this fall.