Schools Prepare for Columbine Anniversary
Several public events were being planned in Colorado this week to mark the anniversary of the deadliest schoolhouse shootings in U.S. history. But school officials, deluged with members of the news media, were taking steps to keep April 20 a low-key day.
Administrators at Columbine High School, the site of the shooting spree that left 14 students and one teacher dead, said several small events would commemorate the anniversary. The 89,000-student Jefferson County district, near Denver, has planned a 5K run to raise money for Columbine and two neighboring schools. The district will hold a private assembly in the high school's gymnasium and later will hold a public memorial in a local park, where students will release white balloons in honor of the victims.
Several other community events were also being planned. Angela Sanders, the daughter of teacher Dave Sanders, who was killed in the shootings, is organizing a rock concert to raise money for a new school library. A majority of the victims were shot and killed in the Columbine library, which has since been closed.
District officials said that additional police officers would be posted at the school this week and that all Columbine students would be required to wear visible identification cards to help prevent outsiders from visiting the school.
"We want to keep out the media and the sightseers," said Rick Kaufman, a spokesman for the 2,000-student school, which was already besieged by reporters and tourists late last week.
Clinton Gives Speech
But the intensive national attention to the tragedy a year ago, and its continuing ramifications in policy debates over how best to prevent violence in the nation and its schools, have invested the anniversary with great symbolic significance for many outside the immediate community.
That significance was underscored last week by President Clinton, who traveled to Colorado to rally support for a state ballot initiative that would restrict sales of firearms at gun shows and to urge congressional leaders to move forward on national gun-control legislation.
"Reducing gun violence is a national challenge," Mr. Clinton told a crowd of about 3,000 gun-control supporters inside Denver's Colorado Convention Center April 12. "I came here first to say I support what you're doing. You must not be deterred," he said.
The ballot initiative, promoted by SAFE Colorado, a gun-control-advocacy group, and opposed by the National Rifle Association, would require mandatory background checks on all firearm sales at gun shows in the state.
SAFE, which was formed soon after two Columbine students gunned down 12 other students and a teacher and injured 23 others before turning their guns on themselves, hopes to gather the necessary 62,000 signatures to put the question to Colorado voters in November. One of the guns that Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, used in the attack was procured by a friend at a local gun show, according to the Jefferson County sheriff's office.
In his speech, President Clinton chastised congressional Republicans for not acting sooner to impose national waiting periods on purchases at gun shows. Mr. Clinton said: "I think it's worth a little bit of inconvenience to save a few thousand lives over the next few years."
The U.S. House earlier this year passed a measure that would impose a 24-hour waiting period on firearms purchases at gun shows, while the Senate bill requires a 72-hour wait. The bills have yet to be reconciled and move to final approval.
Meanwhile, some Colorado lawmakers earlier this month sought another way to commemorate last year's events.
A state House committee approved legislation that would allow Coloradans to donate all or a portion of this year's state tax refunds to Columbine High students injured in the rampage. The bill also would earmark up to $5 million to pay for lifetime medical expenses and college tuition for the nearly two dozen injured students.
Bracing for Worst
Elsewhere, school administrators braced for possible copycat violence as the Columbine anniversary approached.
In Comstock Park, Mich., school officials suspended a sophomore last month who scrawled a note in lipstick in a first-floor restroom that read: "Blood will be shed 4/20." And in Los Angeles last week, students were interrogated by police at Monroe High School after school leaders received information that "the safety of students was in jeopardy."
Leaders of the Denver public schools, adjacent to Jefferson County, said they intended to take extra precautions this week. The district plans to add police at each of its 12 high schools.
"We aren't getting the militia out," said Amy Hudson, a spokeswoman for the 70,000-student system. "But we are going to have extra security on hand to be prepared if anything does come up."
In the four weeks after the Columbine shootings, 350 students were arrested on charges related to threats of violence against schools. They included bomb scares and personal vendettas against school personnel or students, an Education Week analysis of news reports showed. Of the arrests chronicled, 30 involved an actual bomb or weapon. ("Arrests Top 350 in Threats, Bomb Scares," May 26, 1999.)
Scott Poland, the president-elect of the National Association of School Psychologists and the director of psychological services for the Cypress-Fairbanks, Texas, schools, issued a guide last week to aid schools in preparing for this week.
He suggested that school administrators hold special meetings to discuss their crisis-intervention plans, welcome parents into the school, and create an atmosphere in which students would feel comfortable talking about their fears of violence on campus.
"The wise administrator would have a faculty meeting before April 20, would heighten visibility of school police, and be prepared to have discussions with students," he said.
Mr. Poland added, however, that he was concerned the expected replaying of television footage of last year's events could provoke more school violence.
"Every time we put [Mr. Harris' and Mr. Klebold's] picture on television," he said, "it adds to the likelihood that some disturbed kid who has no sense of the finality of death will go to school with a gun."
Vol. 19, Issue 32, Page 3