|RETURN TO COLUMBINE HIGH|
August 16, 1999
NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden examines the response to the Columbine High School's latest safety precautions and how the community is coping with the traumatic effects of the shootings.
MIKE SHEEHAN, Student Body President, Columbine High School: Good morning, Columbine!
TOM BEARDEN: Columbine High's first day of the new school year began with a rally.
MIKE SHEEHAN: Although we were surrounded by terror and destruction, we still stood strong. We have prevailed. We have overcome. Each of us is the spirit of Columbine. Welcome home, rebels!
|"Take Back the School"|
TOM BEARDEN: The theme was "Take Back the School."
FRANK DeANGELIS, Principal, Columbine High School: I challenge you to make new friends. I would encourage you to eat lunch with someone you do not know. You go up, you talk to someone you've never met. I think that it is so important that everyone feels a part of the Columbine family. At this time let's cut the ribbon and raise the flag; it's time to begin classes. We are back! (cheers and applause)
TOM BEARDEN: But the memories of the hail of gunfire that came from
Eric Harris and Dillon
TOM BEARDEN: What kind of thoughts will go through your mind when you walk through those doors?
ELIZABETH LEE: I don't know.
REBECCA LEE: I'll probably be like watching everybody else's reaction to see what they'll do. I think most people will be uptight about it all, going back to school, and then after a couple of weeks they'll stop and they'll just get on with their life.
ELIZABETH LEE: I'll be nervous because on that day it was all normal, no one expected anything, and you're not going to expect anything at school, but now you do. And so you're going to definitely be nervous about what's going to happen.
TOM BEARDEN: Columbine will be a different place from this day forward. There are 16 additional surveillance cameras. Five armed security guards will patrol the grounds 24 hours a day for at least a month after school begins; access to the school will be limited to just five doors; there will be a new keyless entry system for after-hours access; and students and staff will be required to wear I.D. badges at all times. The Salerno family, whose daughter Laurel and her friend Matt Houck will be sophomores, think school officials are on the right track.
DIANE SALERNO: It is really hard to send your kid off to school after something like this has happened. And just knowing there is more of an adult presence in the school, that there are more people there that might be able to help them and protect them makes me feel better.
CHARLES SALERNO: And there is certainly going to be more adults within the school, teachers, personnel, and the security forces, themselves. They are going to have a more judicious eye on what is going on and a more proactive, preventative role than before. There is a realization that this is not the end-all answer.
|Helping students feel safe|
TOM BEARDEN: Laurel thinks her classmates will be more comfortable knowing the measures are in place.
LAUREL SALERNO: I think that the security precautions are adequate, I think they are pretty good. The security cameras that have been added, I think that will help a little bit. And I think that will help the student body to feel safer.
TOM BEARDEN: But not everyone agrees. Elizabeth and Rebecca Lee's mother thinks security can be taken too far.
LEE: I've heard kids say that they're afraid that schools are going
to be like a jail, like a prison. I think if you tell a child, you have
to wear something on you that shows you who you are, I think it does
a lot to create
TOM BEARDEN: Jefferson County School Superintendent Jane Hammond says she doesn't want the school to become a prison either.
JANE HAMMOND, Jefferson County School Superintendent: We will have additional supervision and supports for the students, but we're not interested in making it a prison or a fortress. We want our kids to feel like it's a safe environment and to make it as safe as we can. But even in a prison, bad things can happen.
TOM BEARDEN: Last week, a special task force told the school board that some of Columbine's new security measures ought be considered for all of the district's high schools and middle schools. But some board members have doubts.
DAVE DiGIOCOMO, Jefferson County School Board Member: Is this a knee-jerk reaction where we say that we have to do something because we're in trauma over this -- we have to do something because we have a public clamoring for it? Or are we really doing this because it is reasonable or necessary for the protection of young people in our schools?
|Will other schools follow Columbine's lead?|
SERGIO GONZALEZ, Columbine Student: We don't know if all of these things would have stopped Eric and Dylan from doing what they had done. But, that doesn't stop us from trying to make decisions that can change our schools because we're living in a new era and a new time and students, especially myself, we know that now.
TOM BEARDEN: The school board will decide on Thursday whether to increase security at other schools. Superintendent Hammond hopes the board can strike a balance between security and learning.
JANE HAMMOND: We must have schools that feel safe to the kids and to the community. But we also have to focus on learning. And we don't want to have just safe schools, but we want to have safe schools where students can learn. And so it's a balance how much time, resource, and energy goes to safety, how much goes to increasing student learning.
TOM BEARDEN: Elizabeth and Rebecca's father, State Representative Don Lee, thinks too much focus on security is shortsighted. He started his own community task force after the shooting. The group of more than 50 parents and students are calling for what they term cultural changes in the district. Rep. Lee says a new moral code, one that might include posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms, is part of the answer.
DON LEE: We feel that there has to be a, a real change of the community, not just buy some things and walk away. We feel that the change has to be a cultural one, both in the community environment and the school environment.
TOM BEARDEN: His group has proposed a stricter dress code, and wants to pass legislation that will give parents access to a list of books their kids check out of the school library -- access they don't have now. The school system has pursued other measures in response to the murders. Last April some students said athletes had harassed outcast students like Harris and Klebold. In response, the school administration has required coaches to attend seminars like this one, which are supposed to teach them how to identify and deal with bullying by their athletes.
BILL KOWALSKI, Lawyer, Jefferson County: That is the perception being created when the friends of the shooters report that they hated the jocks. They were looking to shoot the jocks. Why? Because they were the ones who picked on us. That is why it is so important for the coaches to hear this message. You have got to encourage your athletes to talk to you about these issues. You have got to be prepared to listen to them. You have got to assure the athletes and the students in your schools that if they engage in these discussions with you, if they tell us what's going on, we will do something about it.
|Are jocks to blame?|
TOM BEARDEN: Some coaches felt that athletes were being unfairly blamed for the actions of others.
JIM SMITH, Head Football Coach, Jefferson High School: There is a perception out there of what goes on in High School Athletics and I think it is a lot different that what really goes on.
JIM BRATTON, Football Coach, Standley Lake High School: The term "jock" in school vernacular anymore is not just kids that play sports. Jock is anybody that is mainstream; anybody that's part of the system, that doesn't fight the system is a jock. Anybody that dresses in a normal accepted way by adults is a jock. You are not a jock if you buck the system, if you fight the system. So the term "jock" has taken on a much broader meaning than it did for you and me.
REPORTER: Is it an easy scapegoat? I mean, is it an easy way to -
JIM BRATTON: Oh, yes. I was the dean of students for two and a half years at another school. And they would say, well, this jock is picking on me. I'd talk to the kid and he was drama kid or he was band kid. So it had nothing to do with athletics. So I think the term "jock" and athletics has become synonymous -- but in our students' mind they are not; they're different.
TOM BEARDEN: Meanwhile, other public and private agencies are trying
to help students cope with the tragedy.
PASTOR DAVE McPHERSON, West Bowles Community Church: Make sure that every time they throw something a little goofy, you guys let out a big roar.
PASTOR DAVE McPHERSON: I've had a few kids say that they don't want to go back and I've heard that home school enrollment has gone up and things like that. I don't think that is really true with Columbine kids. I think they do want to go back. That's their school and they don't want to give up. I mean they see this as something that they really do want to fight for. That's their school. They don't want to go to Chatville or Bear Creek or these other schools.
|Healing the emotional scars|
TOM BEARDEN: Last night, McPherson and the group discussed how to cope with issues raised by the tragedy.
PASTOR DAVE McPHERSON: Are we trying to say that these two guys were absolutely hopeless? Of course not. There are Erics and Dylans in here; they could have easily gone the same path. But we believe that maybe we have found something. Talk about that. How are you going to reach out to an Eric and a Dylan in your school?
YOUNG GIRL: Become more personable with them, befriend them on a more personable level and make sure they know that someone cares about them.
ANOTHER YOUNG GIRL: You totally have to want to talk to them. You never go up to someone and be like, I feel sorry for you that is why I am talking to you.
TOM BEARDEN: Laurel Salerno and her friend Matt Houck are convinced they can take back their school, and even think it'll be a better place in the future.
LAUREL SALERNO: I think the students at Columbine are more like a family now. And I think we are going to be a lot more careful about what we say to each other. And we are just going to watch what people say. You know, if there's something that's eerie, I think kids will, you know, call a hotline. And so I think measures are going to be taken more seriously, yet we are all going to be more like a family.
MATT HOUCK: I think we will have a lot more respect for each other and just be a lot nicer to each other. I mean we are still going to have our own little cliques because nothing is going to stop that - because that is just how we feel. But I think if there is different cliques that we will still be nice and we won't just blow them off in the halls. We will be able to say hi and just be courteous to them and just have a lot more respect for each other.
TOM BEARDEN: Do you think there will be fewer outcasts?
MATT HOUCK: I think so, yes. And I don't want to make it sound like now we will be nice to them because we are afraid of them or something. It is not like that.
TOM BEARDEN: And so some two thousand Colorado High school kids return to a freshly repaired building and try to move on after the worst incident of school violence in American history -- even as the national debate continues over how to keep it from happening again somewhere else.