Costa Rica Confronts Violence in Schools

July 9, 2010

The Costa Rican government has redoubled its efforts to improve security in the country’s schools after a student shot a school principal in the neck in her office last Thursday afternoon, July 1.

Nancy María Chaverri, principal at the private Colegio Montebello in Mercedes Sur, Heredia, is in “critical, but stable, condition,” said Dr. Douglas Montero, director of the Hospital México, told The Tico Times over the phone. He described her condition as “similar” to her state last Thursday, when she was admitted to the facility’s critical care unit after a bullet to her neck pierced her spinal column before exiting her opposite shoulder.

Montero said he hopes that Chaverri will begin to “regain the functions her body shut down to compensate for the trauma” suffered to the spinal column, but that at the time she is “unconscious and is not responding to stimuli.”

Authorities still have not determined what led the 17-year-old student to take his father’s gun and use it against Chaverri.

“Though we may already be doing some things, we need to do more,” President Laura Chinchilla said at a press conference Monday, July 5 after speaking to the affected families over the weekend. “We need a more ambitious program to confront violence in schools.”

The president proposed using online networks such as Facebook.com or Twitter to monitor student behavior, along with encouraging student participation in arts and sports programs to channel them away from drugs and crime. She is also looking to consult with young people about the best way to stem violence in the schools.

In a message to Costa Ricans via Youtube.com, Chinchilla asked citizens to become involved in the solution.

“Nobody is protected from violence,” she said. “We all have something to do to make our country safer.”

The Chinchilla administration stopped short of requiring school children to be searched. The education ministry decided that each educational center should elect which security measures to implement The Ombudswoman’s Office asked teachers to “use dialogue, mediation and communication” to minimize or avoid conflict.

“We insist that education authorities follow up on situations that can generate conflict, and that they intervene in a preventive and diligent manner,” read a statement issued Friday, July 9 by the Ombudswoman’s Office.

The National Association of Educators (ANDE) urged the Chinchilla administration to address the loss of values in schools and implement tougher security measures.

“We demand that immediate action be taken in schools in the wake of the violence we are experiencing,” said ANDE President Alexander Ovares. “Teachers are helpless in situations like these and lack the support of the Education Ministry and the government to deal with situations of aggression.”

According to the Education Ministry, incidents of violence between students are actually decreasing, from a reported 69,610 in 2003 to 35,492 in 2009. The number of reported cases of violence between teachers and students has also dropped, from 114,212 in 2003 to 63,986 in 2009.

clong@ticotimes.net

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