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METAL DETECTORS WELCOME STUDENTS BACK TO SCHOOL

It's back to school time, which means new clothes, new classes and - in these violent times - more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, gun-sniffing dogs, book-bag bans and locker searches to keep kids from toting guns.

Seventy percent of the nation's 50 largest school districts have installed metal scanners to detect firearms, up from 25 percent two years ago, according to the National School Safety Center. But preventive measures are also becoming the norm in suburban and rural areas."There is no school district now that is immune, whether you're rural, suburban or city," said Peter Blauvelt of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers.

No national figures exist to underscore the depth of gun-related killings in schools, although a study is due in January by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just as it tracks outbreaks of flu, the CDC is tracking the rate of death in schools from guns. And preliminary numbers show 102 homicides and suicides in and around schools in the past two years - a number that suggests an epidemic.

"An epidemic is what public health officials use whenever there is an unprecedented increase in the rate of death. Clearly, the increase in rates of firearm-related injury and death in and around schools warrants calling it an epidemic," said Patrick Kachur, an epidemiologist.

"It's clear to most people the problem is significant and it's on the increase."

In a 1993 survey by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., more than one in 10 teachers and one in four students reported they had been victims of violence in or around school. Thirteen percent of the students said they had brought a weapon to school at least once.

Educators are fighting back, not only with equipment, but with programs such as peer intervention and conflict resolution to prevent disagreements from turning deadly.

More schools adopted tougher policies for the new school year after Congress passed legislation in March requiring them to address the issue of guns or risk losing federal money.