With the rise of gangs and the increase in violent incidents in and around this region's schools, it has become imperative that conflict resolution be taught in schools ["It's Back to School, With Focus on Gangs; Systems Stepping Up Prevention Efforts," Metro, Aug. 29].

The Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University has been providing advice, leadership and guidance to Fairfax County schools that have such programs. The county runs programs in 77 of its schools, some dating to 1988.

Last year the Fairfax schools had 784 cases in which disagreements between students went to mediation instead of confrontation. In some schools, peer mediation and conflict resolution are offered as classes for credit; in most, conflict resolution is taught within the guidance program. Subjects include communication skills, the nature of conflict, ethics and diversity.

A George Mason University evaluation in 1998 and 1999 showed that conflict resolution training reduces staff time spent dealing with conflicts, lessens the number of physical and verbal confrontations, and lowers suspension rates. The culture of nonviolence may, over time, even reduce the capacity of gangs to recruit.

SARA COBB

Director

Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution

George Mason University

Fairfax