GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — After six girls and a principal were killed in three separate school shootings in the States, President Bush called experts together to discuss ways to make stateside schools safer.

Officials at Department of Defense schools in Europe say they have had such procedures in place since before Sept. 11, 2001.

Each month, Department of Defense Dependents Schools educators throughout Europe hold “lockdown” exercises to prepare elementary, middle and high school pupils and teachers to shelter together in a locked space in case of an emergency, DODDS-Europe deputy public affairs officer David Ruderman said in an e-mail Wednesday.

At least two schools — in Grafenwöhr and Darmstadt — held lockdowns in the last week, but they were not in response to the recent stateside shootings, Ruderman said.

Grafenwöhr Middle School children said their lockdown included a briefing about not taking firearms to school. During the exercise, military police attempted to enter locked classrooms while children took shelter against a wall.

“Experts in the field have concluded that there is safety in numbers and better security when students and teachers remain in one place until safe evacuation can be assured,” Ruderman said.

At least one parent in Grafenwöhr said she was pleased that the school took such safety precautions.

“It’s great that they prepare kids for what may happen,” said Vicky Peters, whose son, Carson, is a second-grader at Grafenwöhr Elementary School.

Peters said she has been following the stateside news reports about the school shootings.

“It’s terrible. I’m glad we’re away from the States and the things that are going on,” she said. “You are scared to send kids into the one place that you thought they were safe.”

Discussions with pupils during lockdowns focus on what to do in an emergency, what danger signs to look for and how to report suspicious objects, activities or persons, Ruderman said.

Lockdowns are done in cooperation with installation and garrison commanders and law enforcement officials, and exercises are age-appropriate for the children involved, he said.

“For instance, in the case of our youngest students, elementary schoolers, advance warning is given, and students are walked through the procedure ... in such a way that anxiety levels are not needlessly raised,” he said.

The lockdowns are part of a network of safety and security practices to protect pupils and schools from a range of risks, Ruderman said.

“These go above and beyond those found in stateside schools because our programs add an anti-terrorism dimension,” he said.

School policy on weapons

According to Department of Defense Education Activity regulations, weapons include: “… guns, look-alike (replica) guns, knives, razors, box or carpet cutters, slingshots, nunchucks, any flailing instrument such as a fighting chain or heavy studded or chain belt, objects designed to project a missile, explosives, mace, pepper spray or any other similar propellant, or any other object concealed, displayed, brandished in a manner that reasonably provokes fear.”

Every student is given a safety and security briefing during the first week of school that spells out the policy, according to DODDS spokesman David Ruderman. Students who enter DODDS during the course of the school year receive the same information, and the policy is published in each school’s handbook, made available on school Web sites and communicated to parents, Ruderman said.

There have been instances of children bringing toy weapons or pocketknives to school, Ruderman said.

“We have had a few pocketknives show up on buses and playgrounds, but these have been found to be either for ‘show and tell’ or brought to school by accident,” he said.

When a child brings a weapon to school, parents are alerted and appropriate disciplinary action is taken at the school level, he said.

“Locally chaired disciplinary boards address such instances and mete out penalties as they deem appropriate. Expulsion is possible,” he added.

The DODDS-Europe no-tolerance policy is well-known to students and family members, Ruderman said.

“It is also a regular topic of discussion in classrooms and hallways, Ruderman said.

DODDS-Europe has not experienced any serious weapons incidents in its schools, he added.

— Seth Robson

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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