Washington zeroed in on school violence last week, as President Clinton traveled to the Colorado high school where 15 people were slain last month and victims of such violence gathered on Capitol Hill to speak to lawmakers.
Mr. Clinton chose a school near Columbine High School as the setting to unveil a package of initiatives designed to increase safety at schools.
“What happened to you has pierced the heart of America. We need to move forward together to do what we can to help prevent this ever happening again,” the president said in his May 20 address to students and parents. His visit occurred exactly one month after the shootings that left 14 students and a teacher dead at the Jefferson County high school. (“A Colo. Community Looks for Answers After Deadly Attack,” April 28, 1999.)
The president proposed a $15 million package of initiatives that would be tacked on to the bill for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that the administration unveiled last week.
The president’s new batch of proposals would go further than ever before in requiring districts that receive federal safe and drug-free schools aid to take specific steps to ensure school safety:
His initiatives would:
- Require every public school to issue an annual report card to parents detailing the number of gun, drug, and violent incidents at the school.
- Require a school to conduct a psychological assessment of any student who brought a firearm to school to determine if he posed an “imminent threat of harm to himself or others” before allowing him to return to school. More than 6,000 students in the 1996-97 school year were expelled for bringing guns to schools.
- Increase federal funding for character education and drug education to include courses that teach about the danger of firearms.
Victims Speak Out
Earlier in the week, victims of school violence testified before a subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Anita Wheeler, a student at Western High School in Baltimore, said: “School size is big factor. Schools should be a community and not just there for learning.” While at school, Ms. Wheeler witnessed a student being threatened by another student who had a gun.
But Stephen Keene, a student at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., whose brother was injured in the 1997 shootings at that school, said size didn’t play a role in the violence at his small school of nearly 500 students.
The students testifying suggested that alternative schools and after-school programs could help to reduce violence. But they also acknowledged that new policies and programs were not sure-fire cures.
Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., a member of the Early Childhood, Youth, and Families Subcommittee, which held the hearing, suggested that schools adopt a zero-tolerance policy on student harassment.
But Adam Campbell, a student at Columbine High School, disagreed. “I don’t see how you can totally stop harassment,” he said. “Harassment has been around since you were a little kid.”
Mr. Campbell described Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two students who carried out the massacre at Columbine before turning their weapons on themselves, as good students who wanted to be popular but were considered “weird” instead.
“This is hard to legislate,” said Brigid Moriarty, a student at Sherwood High School in Silver Spring, Md., where a May 10 violence threat caused school officials and parents to guard the building overnight. “Restrictions won’t fix problems.”
Most of the students told the panel that installing metal detectors in schools would bring some sense of security to students.
“There’s not much you can do without making school systems like prison,” Mr. Campbell said.
End of the School Year
While President Clinton and his entourage were drawing renewed attention to their community, Columbine High students and staff members tried to focus on finishing the school year and preparing for last weekend’s graduation ceremony.
But reminders of the shootings remained: Several students were chagrined last week to see the smiling faces of the two student killers in the 1999 yearbook.
Officials of the Jefferson County school district explained that the yearbooks had been printed in February, two months before the two seniors carried out their attack. A supplement was added to the yearbook in remembrance of the victims.
A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 1999 edition of Education Week as Clinton Speaks in Colo.; House Hears From Victims of Violence