While Columbine High School students felt the brunt of the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999, schools across the United States took action as a result of the tragedy. In fact, the day that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took the lives of thirteen innocent people remains the worst high school American shooting spree in America’s history. As a teacher in 1999 and in 2011, I have witnessed first-hand how school districts have changed their policies hoping to prevent another tragedy like Columbine from happening locally.
From the large, suburban California middle school where I worked in 1999 to the small, rural Michigan high school where I work in 2011, I have seen how the ramifications of Columbine affect school policy. The size and locations of the schools became irrelevant as the Columbine shootings made the possibility of violence hit home. Administrators believed, “If it could happen in Littleton, Colorado, it could happen here.”
Knowing that such violence was possible opened many eyes, turning heads toward bullying policies, language use, and tolerance in general. Prior to 1999, while most teachers showed concern about bullying or threats, they typically verbally reprimanded the students and forgot about the incident. After Columbine, administrators expected teachers to document and report these types of allegations no matter how realistic the threat seemed. All threats or verbal slang against another student, even if said in fun, had to be taken seriously. Even twelve years later, in 2011, teachers choose to err on the side of caution by reporting and documenting bullying related issues rather than overlooking or making light of the threat. Students do not care for this attention to detail, but in 2011 these teenagers do not directly remember the impact of Columbine. They had been infants at the time.
Besides paying greater attention to detail, teachers and administrators formed school safety committees. These groups created disaster drills and safety protocols to prevent and address school shootings. The Columbine anniversary reminds districts to evaluate their safety procedures. Typically schools held lock-down drills using a particular bell or alarm signal. Teachers ushered students in the hallways into one of their classrooms, lock the door, turn off the lights, and huddle in a corner quietly until the all clear signal was provided. Again, high school students in 2011 do not fully appreciate the severity of why they undergo lock-down drills, but understand it was due to the Columbine anniversary.
In hindsight, if Columbine High School had been able to implement some of the security measures that other schools created as a result of their experience, perhaps not as many students would have died on April 20, 1999. Yet, officials had no reason to enact such policies prior to that tragic day. Thankfully schools across America have created a bittersweet plan to prevent and protect its students from this ever happening to them.