Bush Takes On School Shootings

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When you're President, you get quick action. So once President George W. Bush made clear he wanted something done after a briefing on shootings at schools, Attorney General Albert Gonzales and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings quickly banded together for a day-long, administration-wide "Conference on School Safety," to be held Tuesday at the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md.

Several Amish officials were invited to participate after their peaceful people were victimized last week by the highest-profile school shooting since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. They elected not to participate because they stay out of public affairs, an Administration official said. Other recent school shootings terrorized pupils in Wisconsin and Colorado. On Monday, as officials were making final preparations for the conference, a 13-year-old in a trench coat shot an assault rifle into the ceiling of his Missouri middle school.

The event, which is the first major undertaking of Bush's new domestic policy director, Karl Zinsmeister, gives the President a chance to connect with suburban moms at a time when polls show many voters are disillusioned with his administration. He will speak to a closing panel on ways schools and communities can work together to keep pupils safer. The Administration's most popular official, First Lady Laura Bush, also will attend. Participants include students, administrators, law enforcement officials and crisis management experts. Officials say no new policy or funding will be announced at the event, which will feature panels dubbed "Preventing Violence in Schools," "Prepared Schools and Communities Are Safer," and "Helping Communities Heal and Recover."

It all sounds well-intentioned, but in the current polarized political climate, even a topic like improving school safety can't escape controversy. One prominent group is unhappy about not being included. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, wrote to Bush to offer help in putting together what the group called a "comprehensive" agenda, including prevention and law enforcement policies. Peter Hamm, the group's communications director, said the group hadn't received a reply. "We haven't, oddly enough," he said. "They're certainly having a nice conversation about making sure your child has the support they need after an incident occurs, which is laudable. But the issue of prevention clearly is not on the table for this conference."

What is on the table, according to Administration officials who gave TIME an exclusive preview, is that: —Schools need to do more planning for the possibility that their pupils will have to deal with violence. Schools should have an emergency response plan and need to devote more resources to physical security and threat assessments.

—Law enforcement can help prevent incidents with outreach to the community, and by offering schools specialized enforcement expertise. Schools, families and communities need to recognize warning signs of violence.

—After a school is attacked, administrators need to focus not just on returning to a normal routine but also on helping their students deal with post-traumatic stress.

—Schools that have been victimized also need to be wary of what the administration calls "high-stress events such as anniversaries."