Columbine providing real lesson
Regardless of people’s viewpoints regarding last weekend’s March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., as well as similar rallies held in other locales across the United States, it would do well for them not to ignore what’s happening in the school district that was the scene of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo.
At Columbine on that tragic day, two students killed 12 other students and a teacher and wounded 23 others before committing suicide in the school library.
But that was not destined to be the only killings in the school district where the Columbine massacre occurred; in 2010, a former student shot two eighth-graders, resurrecting terrible memories about what had happened 11 years earlier.
To its credit, the school district moved about four years ago to “install” a newly thought-out layer of protection to try to prevent future bloodbaths. It’s a layer of protection that some other school systems across this country — including some here in central Pennsylvania — might consider worthwhile to at least investigate.
According to a report in the March 2 Wall Street Journal, the additional-protection initiative in Jefferson County, Colo., where Columbine is located, works this way:
It treats former students who have made a threat or who have engaged in behaviors causing fear for the safety of students and staff the way it treats current students.
Monitoring of such individuals continues sometimes for years after they’ve made a threat.
John McDonald, security chief for the Columbine area district, told the Journal that “it’s human nature to say ‘thank goodness they’re gone; we don’t have to deal with them anymore.’ (But) just because they’re gone doesn’t mean (the threat) goes away.”
The four-year-old program currently is keeping track of 17 former students plus 168 current students.
Under the program, parents and students agree to the arrangement. They sign a contract and waivers allowing district case managers to talk with doctors and therapists treating the students or former students, talk with the individuals themselves and monitor their social media.
Sometimes such an arrangement is a condition of probation handed down by a judge.
But not everyone agrees with the program. As noted in the Journal article, attorneys who represent teens in criminal cases say former students shouldn’t be tracked indefinitely, especially in cases where no criminal charges ever were filed.”
A lawyer who sits on the board of directors of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center argues that the school district’s access to therapists could make troubled individuals less forthcoming in therapy, hurting their treatment.
However, the president of the district’s parent-teacher association counters that the program isn’t aimed at making more difficult the lives of those who have made threats, but rather to help the young people in question.
In the weeks since 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — by a former student — proposals have been put forth as means for curbing or ending killings in the nation’s schools. Many of those proposals have centered only on guns.
But options like the one implemented in Colorado merit wider consideration as well.
No one purported remedy is going to accomplish the result that is being sought.