School Climate & Safety

Red Lake District Officials Make Plans to Resume Class

By Rhea R. Borja — April 05, 2005 7 min read
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At Red Lake High School last week, contractors were replacing shattered windows, knocking down bullet-riddled walls, and cleaning blood-stained floors to repair the damage done by a student who shot and killed seven people at the Minnesota school before turning a gun on himself.

While the 355-student school remained closed, officials of the Red Lake school district were figuring out when and where its more than 1,400 students could resume classes.

Residents of the Red Lake Indian Reservation attended funerals for the victims of Jeff Weise, 16, who shot his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion at their home before opening fire at the school on March 21, killing a security guard, a teacher, and five students. Mr. Weise, who was initially thought to have acted alone, then killed himself.

But the circumstances surrounding the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting were still unfolding last week. On March 29, Floyd Jourdain Jr., the tribal leader of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, acknowledged that his son, Louis Jourdain, 16, had been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in connection with the school attack.

Mr. Jourdain maintained his son’s innocence. The teenager was arraigned in a closed hearing before U.S. Magistrate Raymond Erickson in Duluth, Minn., and was charged with conspiracy, according to news reports. Federal officials have refused to confirm the procedings because Louis Jourdain is a juvenile.

“The people here are still in shock,” said Sister Sharon Sheridan, the principal of the 62-student St. Mary’s Mission School, a Roman Catholic school serving grades 1-6 that shares some resources with the Red Lake public schools. “Many of the children have said they don’t want to ever go back in that building.”

The tribe’s office has been flooded with condolence cards and letters and with phone calls. Dozens of people have posted notes expressing sympathy and grief on the Web site of Education Minnesota, the state’s 70,000-member teachers’ union.

Education Minnesota, which is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, is helping to set up a scholarship fund in the name of Neva Rogers, 62, the teacher slain in the attack.

Wal-Mart stores throughout Minnesota also have set up funds for Red Lake victims and their families.

President Bush talked about the Red Lake shootings on March 26, in his weekly radio address, and telephoned Mr. Jourdain, the tribal leader, the day before to offer his condolences.

“We are doing everything we can to meet the needs of the [Red Lake] community at this tragic time,” Mr. Bush said in the radio address. “The FBI and the Department of Justice are working to coordinate relief through the Federal Crime Victims Assistance Fund. We’re working closely with state, local, and tribal authorities to provide counseling, help with funeral arrangements, and other assistance.”

A network of mental-health professionals was helping the Red Lake community last week, including Frank Zenere, the chairman of the National Association of School Psychologists’ national emergency-assistance team. He and three others on the team were counseling Red Lake school officials after the tragedy.

“We have to look at establishing a new ‘normal,’ ” Mr. Zenere said. “The community will be forever changed. But it can move forward.”

E-Mail Messages

Louis Jourdain’s arrest did not come as a complete surprise to some in the Red Lake community, said Dean Carlblom, a field representative for Education Minnesota. Mr. Carlblom, based in Bemidji, Minn., is acting as a liaison between the state teachers’ union and local school officials.

“There had been rumors before the arrest,” he said last week. “Some students had known there were e-mail messages out there [between Jeff Weise and Louis Jourdain].”

Press accounts quoting an unnamed government official described as knowledgeable about the case said investigators had discovered e-mail messages between Mr. Weise and Louis Jourdain about ambushing the school in a large, armed attack.

It wasn’t clear last week whether other students may have e-mailed Mr. Weise about attacking the school, or whether there would be further arrests in the investigation, which is being led by the FBI.

Federal Cuts Proposed

The school shootings—the deadliest since the 1999 slayings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., which left 15 people dead, including the two student gunmen—took place as the Bush administration is proposing to eliminate $483 million in federal funding for school mental-health services and school security for fiscal 2006.

Mr. Bush has proposed scrapping $35 million for elementary and secondary school counseling and $5 million for integrating mental-health services in schools. He also wants to eliminate $437.4 million in state grants for safe and drug-free schools and communities. This is the first time that program has been targeted for elimination.

“The program has not demonstrated effectiveness and grant funds are spread too thinly to support quality interventions,” the president’s education budget summary on the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site says, referring to the state grants.

In addition, the Bush administration proposed to eliminate $4.9 million for school dropout-prevention programs and $1 million to help young children prepare for school.

The proposed cuts are ironic, said Libby K. Nealis, the public-policy director of the National Association of School Psychologists, based in Bethesda, Md., given that the president’s own commission on mental health issued a report in 2003 saying that mental health is “essential to learning” and is necessary to fulfill the academic goals of the No Child Left Behind Act championed by Mr. Bush.

Ms. Nealis said federal funding for school-based mental-health services frequently is targeted for elimination.

“There’s all this focus on academic achievement, and obviously, that’s critical,” she said. “But there are so many stressors and distractions in life today. If kids come to schools with [emotional and behavioral] barriers to learning, none of them will succeed unless you address those barriers.”

Meanwhile, funding for Indian education programs in the U.S. departments of Education and the Interior may be cut by $114 million, a loss of 10 percent, said David Beaulieu, the president of the National Indian Education Association, in Alexandria, Va. Native American educators have asked for a 5 percent increase, he said.

The proposed cuts to Indian education, especially in light of the Red Lake shootings, are a bad idea, Mr. Beaulieu said.

“The federal government has a unique responsibility for providing operational funding for Indian education,” he added.

But the government can’t fund everything, said Thomas P. Skelly, the director of budget service in the Department of Education.

“You have to choose the priorities. You have to choose what’s most likely to have the best results,” he said. “In this administration, we’re going for more flexible formula programs to give states and localities more [funding] authority.”

Offers of Help

The superintendents of several neighboring school districts met with Red Lake school leaders last week to discuss temporarily enrolling Red Lake students in their districts’ high schools.

Red Lake High students may go back to class this week at Deer Lake Elementary School, 30 miles away in the 5,000-student Bemidji school district, said Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu, a member of the Red Lake school board.

The elementary school, which was closed because of low enrollment, is used as a storage facility, said Jim Hess, the superintendent of the Bemidji schools.

“We’d been talking in our district about the possibility of bringing that up into operational use,” he said of the plan to have Red Lake high school students use Deer Lake Elementary. “We’re just trying to do whatever we can to help.”

Red Lake Elementary School is set to reopen this week. Whether Red Lake Middle School, which shares a building with the high school, will also reopen remained unclear late last week.

Because of the extensive damage, the high school may not open to students until next school year. The classroom where Ms. Rogers and five students were killed—and where the gunman shot himself—may never again be used, some officials have speculated.

Two 15-year-old students, Jeff May and Steven Cobenais, remained hospitalized last week.

Rick J. Kaufman, the executive director of communications for Colorado’s Jefferson County school district, predicted it would take weeks before Red Lake administrators start answering all of the offers for help.

After the Columbine shootings, Mr. Kaufman’s district was deluged with “hundreds and hundreds” of calls, cards, posters, and letters. The sympathetic gestures, while much appreciated, overwhelmed Jefferson County educators, he said.

“The attitude was almost, ‘Leave us alone.’ It wasn’t until summer when we began to make sense of next steps, of what to do next,” Mr. Kaufman said. “And we were [so busy] dealing with the evolving investigation, the memorials, the funerals, that it took two weeks for Columbine students to go back to school.”

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