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Students paid for tattling on peers

USA Today | April 19 2005

ATLANTA — Last month's school shooting in Minnesota has stirred interest in organized "snitch" programs that pay students for telling on classmates who carry guns or drugs or violate school rules.

Last week in central Georgia, the Houston County school board became the state's first school district to enroll in the national Student CrimeStoppers program, started in 1983. Students can earn up to $500 for alerting school officials about firearms. They can get up to $100 for fingering classmates involved in vandalism, theft or drugs.

Another Georgia school, Model High School in Rome, said last week it implemented a program that pays students up to $100 for information about thefts, drugs or guns on school property. "It's not a reaction to anything that's happening on campus," says Tim Hensley, spokesman for the Floyd County schools. "It's a proactive attempt from the principal's standpoint."

"There's a balance here between creating a society of snitches and creating a sense of community responsibility," says Russ Skiba, professor of educational psychology at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Skiba, who co-chaired a U.S. Education Department project on violence prevention in 11 schools, says he worries reward programs are a "knee-jerk reaction" to the school shooting in Red Lake, Minn. Student Jeff Weise, 16, of Red Lake, killed nine people and wounded 14 before killing himself March 21.

The Model High program began before the Red Lake shootings, Hensley says. At the 650-student school, money from candy and soda sales will be used to pay $10 for valid information about campus thefts, $25 or $50 for tips on drugs, and $100 for leads on gun possession or other felonies.

A similar program at Cherryville High School in rural Gaston County, N.C., "has really worked well," principal Stephen Huffstetler says. He implemented the program two years ago. "This year, we've given out $1,100," he says. "For $100, they'll turn their mothers in."

He says the money was paid for tips on drug possession or sales, mainly marijuana and prescription pills. The rewards are funded partly by student-run programs, he says.

A wave of student reward programs sprang up after a rash of school shootings in the mid-1990s. Some were in place before then.

In Texas, the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District started a Student CrimeStoppers program in its three middle schools and four high schools in 1994, says Melanie Magee, supervisor of student services.

This year, the district has paid $2,144. Magee says tips have led to students getting busted for attempting to sell prescription drugs, smoking on campus and other offenses. During the 2003-04 school year, tips led to the seizures of 11 weapons.