At Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., two teens went on a shooting spree on April 20, 1999, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide. At the time, the massacre was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history and prompted a national debate on gun control and school safety, as well as a major investigation to determine what motivated the gunmen, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17. —History.com
Nearly 20 years later, the “national debate on gun control and school safety” is still ongoing, and there are always “major investigations to determine what motivated the gunmen.” Changes have been made by some retailers regarding who can buy what kind of gun after the shooting on Valentine’s Day that killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
But our perspectives changed with the Columbine shooting.
At the time of the Columbine High School shooting in an unincorporated area of Jefferson County, Colo., I was teaching English and journalism at Urbana High School. Not long after the story broke, the administration sent a notice to all teachers to read to their classes about what to do if someone was suspected of planning that type of incident or that someone was exhibiting a suspicious form of behavior.
While I was reading the notice to my class, I saw one student about half way down the middle row in front of me writing and not seeming to pay attention. After I finished reading, I intended to have a discussion about the school shooting and what it meant for the school environment.
But the student got up and brought his note to me.
I don’t remember exactly what it said, except that it was something about a possible event of the Columbine type happening at the high school and identifying a student dressed in black as a possibility. Knowing the student in my class and his father, I didn’t think the student was serious in what he had written or that there was any danger from the kid dressed in black.
Nonetheless, I walked over to the side of the room, punched the call button and asked for a dean to come to my classroom. When the dean arrived, I handed her the note and told the student to go with her. From that point, the student’s parent was immediately contacted, explained the situation and asked to come to the school and get the student. At the time, the father was involved with an extremely important situation at his job that I won’t try to explain.
Suffice it to say, he was very upset at being interrupted and by what his son had done. And while I don’t know what happened at home, I do know that the father brought his son to school a couple of days later, had his son apologize and assured me that that behavior would never happen again.
And it didn’t.
But the Columbine shooting marked a new time. Prior to that there had been school shootings going all the way back to the Enoch Brown school massacre on July 26, 1764, when a group of Delaware Indians entered a log schoolhouse in the Province of Pennsylvania and killed Brown, the schoolmaster, and nine students. Others followed through the years, but it wasn’t until Columbine that school shootings seemed to increase in their frequency and really got the country’s attention.
Since Columbine, there have been 25 school shootings, 10 of which resulted in the deaths of four or more students or staff for a total of 122 fatalities, including the death or suicide of the shooter(s) who gunned down the innocent.
Before Columbine, there were training sessions for tornado drills, and how to respond if hostages were taken—back in the early days of the atomic age, there was even something called a “duck-and-cover” air-raid drill where students were instructed to crawl under their desks and cover their heads to somehow protect against nuclear fallout.
Holding training drills and sending a kid to the dean’s office who did a stupid thing because he thought it was cool (sounds like something I might have done as a kid, and my father would have done the same thing my student’s father did—maybe even taking off his belt and wrapping it around my rear end in the process) are what the school environment has come to, even more so today after all the school shootings and other threats to our security where the benefits of freedom are curtailed.
There have been cable news talk show discussions 24/7 since the shooting in Florida, town hall meetings, politicians and the National Rifle Association members spinning their positions and everybody who has an opinion or a solution bickering, talking over each other, tweeting and jacking their jaws, still without any idea of how to really stop the senseless killings.
But with the available security to get on an airplane, enter a courthouse and other public arenas, it would seem that it is equally important for security to be afforded to the staff, teachers and students going to school day in and day out.