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Young New Yorkers Learn Self-Defense

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A 7-year-old child was roller-skating through the streets of New York City. Preoccupied with staying on her feet, she became separated from her friends and was grabbed up by an assailant. The child told him that if he put her down, she would do what he wanted. He did. The child, screaming loudly, was able to escape and attract the attention of passers-by, who nabbed the man. He turned out to have a long record of molesting children.

The story probably had its relatively happy ending because the child was an alumna of the Children's Creative Safety Program, a unique course run by the Safety and Fitness Exchange (safe) in New York.

Started two years ago by three women, safe began as an "outreach" program for schools and community organizations, working with people of all ages. But as they had more contact with children, the founders saw a tremendous need to teach children "creative strategies" for protecting themselves, according to Tamar Hosansky, one of the co-founders.

The strategies capitalize on self-defense techniques that children use naturally--screaming, biting, kicking--as well as on their quickness and agility, Ms. Hosansky said. The purpose of the physical training, she said, is to give children the wherewithal to distract attackers and escape safely. The children also learn how to be assertive and how to spot a potential assailant.

Of the child who managed to escape from her attacker, Ms. Hosansky said, "She was able to think on her feet--or off them--because she could plan and think in advance."

So far, between 75 and 100 children have taken the course at safe headquarters in Manhattan. The center's staff has worked with students and teachers at about 15 schools in the area, Ms. Hosansky said, and has received requests for information from all over the country.

For information, write to safe, 1123 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10010.

At least five children and one teacher were killed last week when an explosion ripped through the cafeteria at Star Elementary School in Spencer, Okla., a suburban section of the Oklahoma City school district.

Thirty-five other people were injured in the blast, which authorities believe was caused either by a natural-gas buildup or a boiler explosion.

Some 60 children were at lunch when the explosion tore through the kitchen wall, showering bricks, glass, and metal over the cafeteria.

One pupil said she escaped being hit by flying glass because she ducked "like they told me to during a tornado."

Unless the Detroit Federation of Teachers makes some financial concessions, 366 more of its members will be out of work by the end of this month.

The school board has asked the teachers to avoid the layoffs by taking either four unpaid holidays or a cut in salaries and benefits, but so far, the union has refused.

Since December, 183 other teachers and some 700 other school employees have been laid off in the 210,000-student district. Still more layoffs are expected at the end of this school year.

"It was anticipated," said Stephen D. Chennault, a spokesman for the district. "It's because of the federal cutbacks as well as state cutbacks."

High schools have been forced to drop some courses this semester because of the staff cuts, Mr. Chennault said, and some schools will be closed.

Meanwhile, the troubled school system faces a complete reorganization of its administrative structure.

A committee named to develop a "recentralization" plan for the school system has submitted its recommendations to the legislature. The district's eight regional school boards--one of the oldest experiments in school-district decentralization in the country--are to be replaced with a central board and administration under a measure approved by Detroit voters last fall.

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