On April 20, 1999, two Colorado teenagers changed the way schools would operate forever.
On that day, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on the students and faculty at Columbine High School. At the end of their rampage, 15 people were dead, including the gunmen, and dozens of others were left both physically and mentally wounded.
Although the killing spree lasted less than an hour, its effects are still felt today.
The Columbine shooting wasn’t the first, or last school shooting. But it is that tragic event that school officials point to as being the impetus for change.
Ten years later, school systems are still fueled by the horrific memories of that day as they strive to make sure that history does not repeat itself.
“A year prior to Columbine, we had a major natural disaster in Hall County — the tornadoes that swept through North Hall and White County in the spring of 1998 — which made us aware of the need to update our safety procedures, especially in the area of response and getting information out,” said Gordon Higgins, the Hall County school system’s director of community relations.
“Of course with Columbine, there was increased scrutiny of safety measures that could be put into place to further ensure school safety from outside threats.”
One of the most visible safety measures that has been set in place at schools is the hiring of school resource officers.
Besides patrolling the halls during school hours to make sure that students are doing the right thing inside, resource officers are also on alert for outside threats and can serve as first responders to emergency situations.
During the Columbine shooting, many Littleton, Colo., parents were left sitting in front of their TVs to find out more about the tragedy unfolding at their child’s school. Since that time, many school systems, including Hall County, have implemented emergency notification systems.
“We have utilized technology to increase parent notification in the event of an emergency situation at a child’s school,” Higgins said. “Through our Infinite Campus student information system, we have added the messenger component, which gives the system the
capability of both e-mailing and calling a target group within minutes.”
Following the Columbine shooting, many states adopted more stringent policies concerning visitors on campus and the securing of school entrances when school is not in session.
In May 2002, Georgia’s then-Gov. Roy Barnes signed into law a bill requiring school visitors sign in at a main office and giving school administrators the authority to detain individuals who fail to do so.
School safety wasn’t the only area in which changes have been made since the Columbine school shooting. Originally, it was thought that Klebold and Harris went on a rampage because they were being picked on by bullies. Since that time, many school systems have begun actively working to eliminate bullying in the school environment.
“Beginning with the elementary grades, bullying prevention programs are in place to make teachers, parents and students aware of bullying — what it is and what to do to stop it. We are constantly being kept up to date on the latest in bullying practices and bullying prevention,” said Sarah Knuth, Jefferson High School counselor.
“For example, one of the most prevalent means of bullying at this time is cyber bullying. To stop this, and any type of bullying, the student must let an adult know what is happening so that the student can be referred to someone with bullying prevention training who can work with the students (including the bully) to stop the bullying.”