With Columbine's tragedy still frsh, school officials are trying to make students safer. In Buffalo, that means walk-through metal-detectors. In Cheektowaga, cameras at the main doors. And in Ken-Ton, no book bags in class.
Possible tragedy was averted in Orchard Park last year when students told school officials about a classmate who appeared to be planning a terrorist attack.
Quick action averted any problem, kept the school safe and found help for the troubled pupil.
"A metal detector wouldn't have made a bit of difference," said Charles Stoddart, the Orchard Park superintendent. "Having everyone wear ID tags wouldn't have made a bit of difference. Developing profiles with faculty input wouldn't have helped. What worked was people caring about people."
As local schools open this week, security remains a main concern for administrators, teachers and students alike.
While there is a widespread sense that there is no foolproof way to avoid the sort of disaster that struck Colorado's Columbine High School last April, schools are piecing together measures to make their buildings safer.
The Buffalo Public Schools have ordered 12 walk-through metal detectors that will be used on a spot basis at individual schools or at extracurricular or athletic events. In addition, high school students will be issued bar-coded identification cards that could be used not only for security purposes but also to check out a library book or pay for a school lunch.
In Hamburg, newly installed interior windows will allow office workers to better monitor entrances.
Cameras have been installed at the main doors of two Cheektowaga-Sloan schools, and access to keys has been tightened up. And in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda schools, middle and high school students no longer will be allowed to take book bags to class.
Many districts are locking all entrance doors but one, solidifying hall monitor procedures, providing suggestion boxes so students can make anonymous tips and working out emergency plans with police and fire departments.
"In the old days, when you had a fire alarm, you evacuated the building," Stoddart said. "That is no longer a logical response to an anthrax scare, a bomb threat or a deranged person with a gun. We have to develop specific, detailed plans for all those things."
Buffalo has 30 security officers assigned to schools, 12 Buffalo police officers who regularly teach Drug Abuse Resistance Education classes and five other officers who patrol school grounds on a daily basis.
While that team was assembled to guard against more conventional security concerns, it gives Buffalo an advantage in dealing with any situations that might occur, said William Jackson, the district's security chief.
"If you want to make a threat around here, we're not going to put up with it," he said. "We're used to dealing with this stuff."
Sheriff Patrick Gallivan compares school security efforts to wearing a seat belt or bike helmet -- they don't guarantee safety but they minimize the risk.
But even where visible security measures are being adopted, administrators say the most effective precautions -- like the Orchard Park example -- are far more subtle.
"If somebody's determined to do the sorts of things that have taken place elsewhere, he'll find a way to do it," said James P. Mazgajewski, superintendent of the Cheektowaga-Sloan schools. "The key is to prevent those things, and you do that by knowing the kids."
Security crackdowns are not only of limited value but can become excessive, said Joseph A. Podgorski, principal of Amherst Central High School.
"You can't do this with a Gestapo mentality," he said. "If you want to create a society that promotes fear and violence, then you create schools with metal detectors and armed guards. That's inconsistent with what schools are all about, and it's overkill."
In Jamestown, four city police officers have been assigned to school buildings, but their main responsibility will be mentoring and counseling students and not conventional patrol duty.
"I think it's a deterrent," School Superintendent Raymond Fashano said. "It breaks down some walls that have never been broken down before."
Schools also are stressing student involvement in extracurricular activities and sports; firm but fair discipline policies; beefed up peer mediation, conflict-resolution and counseling efforts; and student assemblies and retreats to discuss responsibilities and where to find help.
"A lot of it is very basic, like opening up lines of communication with kids -- letting them know you're there and available, letting them know there's an outlet," said Peter Roswell, superintendent of the Hamburg Central Schools.
More than 200 teachers in the Amherst Central School District last week spent a day watching and discussing skits depicting troublesome situations with students and parents.
"Violence is a continuum," they were told by Bonnie L. Glazer, executive director of Child & Adolescent Treatment Services. "It does not begin with shootings. Kids are not born killers. They become killers."
In school districts throughout the area, efforts are being made to help teachers and staff members recognize and respond to the signs and causes of violence -- frustration, alienation, anger and a sense of being shunned, wronged or belittled.
"We don't want people to feel they are disenfranchised," Stoddart said. "We don't want people to feel they are on the outside looking in."
Student willingness to report suspicious or threatening behavior by classmates is another crucial element, said Dr. Charles P. Ewing, a forensic psychologist and University at Buffalo Law School professor.
School officials, he said, should find ways to impart this message to students: "This is your school, your community, your life. You have the responsibility to help us protect you."
At the same time, Ewing said, students should have more responsibility for both planning and carrying out measures designed to avert violence.
"We shouldn't just be looking at it as adults and saying: 'I wouldn't want a school where you have to pass through metal detectors or have doors locked,' " he said. "Let's ask the kids what they think."
At Amherst's staff development day last week, there was a strong sense that school will open with a safe, comfortable atmosphere that is conducive to learning.
"We're small enough that you don't have the of anonymity you have in larger schools," said David Ulrich, president of the Amherst teachers union. "We have people in our schools who know practically every kid."