Girl's Murder Puts Schools on Alert Staff, Students Are Taking Extra Precautions

Article excerpt

The teen-age boy walks down a deserted school corridor. Before he goes 10 feet, two teachers ask for his hall pass. Turning a corner, he's stopped again.

An assistant principal carefully examines the crumpled pass before letting him continue.

This scene is repeated daily in high schools all over the St. Louis area, where increased hallway vigilance has become one of the aftershocks of Christine Smetzer's murder.

Smetzer, 15, was found beaten to death last month in a restroom at McCluer North High School. Another student is in custody, accused of her murder.

Principals are reminding teachers to patrol restrooms. Teachers are more strict about who leaves class early. And students use buddy systems to keep track of each other.

Teachers and students alike are asking the question: How do you protect schools and staff from potentially violent students without turning the school into a prison?

Some of the approaches they suggest include:

- Identifying isolated areas around the schools and making them safer.

- Putting more staff members on patrol.

- Informing staff members about students with a potential for violence.

The 15-year-old suspected of killing Smetzer had a history of school disciplinary problems and a behavior disorder. Teachers say they don't get enough information about such students - not nearly enough.

***** Sensing Trouble

Every school has secluded spots screened from the watchful eyes of staff, said Franklin McCallie, principal at Kirkwood High School, which has seven buildings on 47 acres.

Lillie Taylor tells her freshman students at Kirkwood to trust their instincts. "If you see students acting inappropriately - cursing, getting into verbal arguments, smoking, whatever - get out of there and tell an adult," she said.

Lindbergh High School covers 70 acres. Amanda Fox, a senior, said older students know which restrooms are unsafe. "We know where the troublemakers end up," she said.

Pattonville High School officials lock some restrooms at certain hours because they are difficult to supervise.

Schools also are hiring more people whose primary job is to patrol the campus.

As one of its first responses to Smetzer's murder, the Ferguson-Florissant School District doubled the security guards at McCluer North to six and assigned some teachers extra patrolling duties.

Kirkwood has aides called "walking counselors." They don't wear uniforms or carry guns. "It's a tone and atmosphere they set," said McCallie, the principal.

Besides talking with students, the walking counselors also stop strangers, patrol the parking lot, check restrooms and add a supervising adult to places teachers and administrators are too busy to watch.

A uniformed security guard stands in the driveway entrance to the Pattonville High School campus. Last week, he stopped drivers he had waved through before.

"They're really checking," said Lauren Buckner, a senior at Pattonville. When Pattonville hired off-duty, uniformed police officers in 1983, critics complained about the prison atmosphere. "Now they're just part of the staff," said Bob Benben, assistant principal.

At Lindbergh High School, principal David Skillman said everyone has to consider security. The school depends on students to let school officials know about pending trouble or if a stranger is around.

Lindbergh uses one outside security officer. Skillman and four assistant principals also walk the hallways before and after school and during the day. A teacher and an aide also have extra hall duty.

Lindbergh students say they support the safety measures. Some even suggested the district go further by adding more staff in the hallways during classes to catch wanderers. …