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Threats Aside, Schools To Stay Open

May 20, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Despite another school shooting, districts nationwide say they won’t let threats or copycat incidents bring an early end to the 1998-99 school year.

``Neither the districts nor the department want to send the message to kids that they can shorten the school year,″ said Greg Doyle, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which has decided not to grant waivers for districts to shorten their 180-day school year.

On Thursday, with just two or three weeks to go for many schools, six students were wounded at a high school in Conyers, Ga. The incident came one month after the shooting in Littleton, Colo., that left 15 dead, including the two assailants.

Since April 20, rumors and unconfirmed bomb and shooting threats have disrupted schools nationwide. Officials frustrated with the frequent alarms struggled with ways to cope. While some schools dismissed students early on days when there were specific threats or anniversary-fueled rumors, they have chosen not to end the school year altogether.

``It’s an incredibly bad situation for school administrators to be in,″ Doyle said. ``Especially since uppermost in all of their minds is the safety of the kids. But we’ve got to educate them.″

The first of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts were scheduled to close the first week in June. But instead of closing, some schools have added extra days to make up for time missed from earlier threats, Doyle said.

On Tuesday, a district in Allen, Texas _ which received eight bomb threats in two weeks _ began limiting its schedule to classes, exams and activities necessary for graduation, promotion or to otherwise conclude the school year, which ends next week.

Thursday’s shooting has not changed the board’s decision, said a district spokeswoman, Stacey Cheatham.

Districts are re-evaluating safety policies, said Renee Williams of the National School Boards Association, but the association is not advising school boards to close schools prematurely.

Dewey Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia, said schools have mainly been interested in how to react to threats and to ease student and parent anxiety.

Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Thursday that gun control was a better response than school closings.

``I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do,″ Feldman said of school closings. ``This is not school violence. This is violence coming from outside of schools. The bottom line is getting guns out of the hands of kids.″

Hours after shooting in Conyers, Vice President Al Gore cast a tie-breaking vote for Senate approval of a Democratic proposal to require mandatory background checks for gun transactions at gun shows and pawn shops. Also on Thursday, House leaders agreed to begin working on a juvenile crime bill next week.

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