Are students safe when they go to school in Tahoe? |

Are students safe when they go to school in Tahoe?

Tahoe students pondered the question.

“People could just blow up and go psycho,” said Samantha Taylor, a senior at George Whittell High School.

“It could happen anywhere,” 18-year-old Vanessa Brewer said. “It makes you think.”

Jim Mahon, who has a daughter in South Tahoe Middle School, said he thinks school violence could become a reality in Tahoe.

“The freaks and the gangs are here,” he said. “It’s a potential threat.”

But many students said they believe that Tahoe’s small community protects them from school violence.

“It could never happen here,” said 17-year-old Tristan Fennessy. “People here are too soft. Kids care too much about their own lives and if they get picked on they just go to the movies or something.”

Nathan Porter, a senior, agreed.

“For the most part, there’s no tension here,” he said. “The most tension is between the preppies and the stoners.

“There’s a lot of talk, but there’s never a problem.”

Whittell Principal Larry Snyder said that type of talk needs to be taken seriously.

“You have to check every situation out and address it immediately,” he said.

Snyder, who has been working in schools for more than 35 years, is speaking from experience.

As the dean of students at Monterey High School in California in 1985, he said he had a student pull out a loaded gun in his office. Snyder said he was able to defuse the situation by talking the student into giving the gun over to him.

“This type of situation could happen at any school in the United States, public or private,” he said.

And bringing weapons to school has happened in Tahoe.

This year, Lake Tahoe Unified School District had two cases in which firearms were brought on school property and four cases with knives. No instances with weapons have occurred at George Whittell High School this year but one student was suspended last year for bringing a knife to school.

Both school districts said they have a zero-tolerance policy concerning weapons on campus.

“If we have to, we’ll get the sheriffs involved,” Snyder said.

But what about preventing this violence from happening?

Toni Kelly, school psychologist for South Tahoe High, said there are some warning signs that teens may exhibit that could alert parents to potential violent behaviors.

They include: depression, changes in eating or sleeping habits, changes in values, distancing themselves from others, withdrawal from normal activities and hanging around questionable peers.

“There are some things to be aware of,” she said. “But many children will display some of these characteristics at some point, and very few act on it.”

Kelly also said that parents can play an important role in preventing violence among youth.

“Know what your child is doing, who their friends are, know the parents of those friends and be alert to drastic changes,”she said. “Also be aware of what students are involved with on the Internet.”

Kelly also said if students witness these types of behaviors in their classmates they need to tell someone.

“We encourage students that hear themes of violence from other students to approach a member of the staff or any adult,” she said. “And this can be done in a discreet way so that the child can remain anonymous.”

Frank Kovac, the athletic director at South Tahoe High agreed.

“The students play an integral part,” he said. “They are the eyes and ears on campus.”

South Tahoe High also has many programs in place to help prevent teen violence.

“We have activities and clubs, a counseling staff, a resource officer from the South Tahoe Police Department and two security officers on campus,” Kelly said. “We want to promote programs that help keep the students connected to each other, with staff and themselves.”

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