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Every school shooting is a catastrophe. For every child that dies, a family is severely wounded. Many school districts have taken steps to to protect their children:
In 2016, the CDC found nearly 90 percent of public schools had a written plan for responding to school shootings, and 70 percent of those schools had drilled students on the plan.
Regarding the Columbine High School mass shooting, many steps were taken to make the school more secure. But in the eyes of some, those actions do not respond sufficiently to the situation.
Jason Glass, the Superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools has written an open letter proposing that the school be demolished and cites several reasons, including this one:
School shooters refer to and study the Columbine shooting as a macabre source of inspiration and motivation. Perhaps influenced by the 20th anniversary of the shooting, over the past 11 months the number of people trying to enter the school illegally or otherwise trespassing on school property has been increasing – now to record levels.
He also says that “school safety experts recommend tearing down buildings where school shootings take place.”
I’ll return to this “analysis” later in this post.
Mr. Glass proposes the following changes:
- Retain the name of Columbine High School, honoring the pride and spirit the community has with the name
- The current school mascot and colors would be unchanged
- Construct the new school near the current location, west of the current site
- Consider preserving the Hope Library, making it the cornerstone of the new building
- The existing building would be demolished, replaced with fields, and controlled entry points
- The new building would have enhanced safety features, designed to provide greater monitoring and school privacy
The new school would require $70 million to construct.
Not everyone thinks that tearing down the school is a good idea.
Unfortunately, the school district is presenting information to voters that is not based on reason, but on thinly disguised emotion and bias. For example, it isn’t clear who is visiting the school; to make the assumption that they are potential shooters is unreasonable. Second, I couldn’t find data to validate that more people are visiting the school “in the last 11 months” than previously; since we don’t know who these people are (they could be simply curious tourists), it’s hard to determine how this information is helpful. (A person could liken this curiosity to people who stare at car accidents as they drive by.) Third, there’s no evidence that the removal of the school would stop people from wanting to visit the site, even though it will mainly be fields; the new school, if built, will be nearby. Fourth, demolishing the school will not necessarily make students safer; the school district has one of the best-protected schools in the nation. Fifth, the experts who recommend tearing down schools that are locations of mass shootings aren’t identified, nor is their expertise defined. Finally, the emotional impact on students who survived and families who lost children is impossible to measure. One survivor offered his perspective on the potential demolition:
‘It’s not right,’ Josh Lapp, 36, who works in the construction industry and is another survivor, told NPR. ‘This community has had to deal with enough of a burden, to ask them to pay for this new construction isn’t fair, just because of what the shooters did.’
Another survivor offered the following:
Will Beck, 36, a Columbine survivor who now works as a financial adviser in Utah, said he recently took his three young children to the school to walk them through the bathroom he sought shelter in during the shooting. He pointed out the exact location where a teacher saved his life. And he showed them the fence he climbed to finally escape the violence.
‘I was heartbroken over the thought of losing it,’ Beck told NPR. ‘The school, to me, is a very special place.’
Revisiting the school shortly after the shooting, and even now with his children, helps him conquer the trauma.
‘We can’t let the shooters rule our lives,’ Beck said.
The questions that I hope residents will ask themselves are the following:
- Are we being fiscally responsible to demolish the school? Are there other more helpful ways the $70 million could be spent?
- Will this action make a difference in the lives of the surviving students, families and the other residents of the community? If yes, in what ways?
- What do we want to accomplish by removing the school and building a new one?
I realize that the decision to raze the school and build a new one lies with the community; however, if someone from that area asked you to provide input to the Jefferson County residents, what would you tell them?