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California School Erecting a Wall To Block Bullets

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About three weeks ago, several basketball players practicing on the outdoor courts of a Long Beach, Calif., junior high school were forced to hit the ground to avoid a hail of gunfire coming from a neighboring public-housing project.

It was not the first time students at the Lindbergh Junior High School have had to dodge bullets from the project, but members of the Long Beach board of education say they hope a recent board decision will make it be the last.

Within two weeks, construction is expected to be completed on a 900-foot long, 10-foot high "bullet barrier" along the school campus's south border, which abuts the housing-project property.

The wall, which is thought to be the nation's first barrier built specifically to protect a school campus from bullets, will be similar to freeway sound barriers made of steel-reinforced concrete, accord4ing to Dick Van Der Laan, a district spokesman.

The board decided last month that the barrier was needed, after years of hearing reports of sporadic incidents in which gunshots, bottles, rocks, arrows, pellets, BB's and other objects had been propelled through the chain-link fence that previously separated the school grounds from the project.

"No one has been killed by stray gunfire in the district yet," said Mr. Van Der Laan, "and we don't want to be the first. We just don't want our students and staff subjected to that kind of threat anymore.''

Two years ago, a student playing basketball outside the school was hit by a stray bullet but not seriously injured, the spokesman said.

It was at that point that the school's staff first approached the board with the idea of building a barrier, but the precaution was not deemed necessary until this year.

Lindbergh Junior High, which has 1,245 students, is the only school among the 82 in the district that will need a bullet barrier, Mr. Van Der Laan noted. He called its sporadic gunfire "an isolated problem."

Half of the funding for the wall, which is expected to cost more than $100,000, will be provided by Los Angeles County, according to the spokesman.

The district will seek the rest from the state department of education. But if the request is denied, local funds will be used, Mr. Van Der Laan said.

"Preventing serious injury is worth the cost," he maintained, adding that the community has been very supportive of the plan.

"We like to think of our schools as the safest place in the world," Mr. Van Der Laan said. "We're just trying to keep it that way."

--lj

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