Home > Uncategorized > Misappropriations Since Columbine Undercut Communitarianism, Support Militarism

Misappropriations Since Columbine Undercut Communitarianism, Support Militarism

I have vivid memories of the Columbine shootings and especially the aftermath. At the time of the shootings I was serving as Superintendent in the Hudson Valley and was struck by how the pictures of the high school and the communities that surrounded the high school resembled the high schools and suburban communities in our area. These shooting weren’t taking place in some rural outpost or urban school district. They were taking place in an upper middle class enclave that looked eerily similar to where I lived and worked. The images that looped on CNN and our local broadcasts resonated the same way with our parents, teachers, administrators, and presumably our students. And the deep-seated fears that this elicited among the community were further inflamed by a rumor that emerged within days: graffiti in a neighboring high school intimated that a Columbine-like shooting was going to take place somewhere in the region on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. And once the rumor took root there was no way to allay the fear that took root at the same time.

The calendar, though, called for a budget vote in mid-May and that, in turn, meant a cycle of public forums in schools and in coffee klatches on the content of the budget. At these forums I distributed a bulleted list of facts about the budget and offered a fifteen minute overview before opening the floor to questions… and the questions invariably had nothing to do with the budget and everything to do with safety and the ominous warnings about Cinco de Mayo…. even after Cinco de Mayo came and went without incident. My assurances that we had SROs on duty at one of our high schools, a State Police barracks adjacent to the other, and a policy of keeping all doors locked during school hours did nothing to assuage the fears of the parents who came to the budget presentations. In the aftermath of this particular shooting they wanted surveillance cameras, more police presence, and more spent on school security.

An article by Julia Glum in yesterday’s International Business Times, the 17th anniversary of Columbine, described the impact of Columbine on spending in schools. The essence of the article can be captured in these paragraphs:

“The school security industry is now a million-dollar industry. A lot of people and a lot of organizations are using a very fear-based approach to market whatever they’re selling,” said Michael Dorn, the executive director of Safe Havens International, a campus safety nonprofit based in Macon, Georgia. “What we’re seeing is an unprecedented amount of approaches that have never been tested, never been validated to work, but we’re seeing people describe them as best practices and school districts rushing out to put them in place.

Dewey Cornell, director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, wrote in a commentary provided to International Business Times that he worried fears about school shootings had diverted attention and resources aimed at addressing students’ mental health.

The nationwide movement to increase school security seems to have displaced efforts to prevent school violence through psychological interventions,” Cornell said in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry last year. “School systems that are spending millions to reinforce their building entrances, hire security staff and install electronic door locks and alarm systems nevertheless lack funds to hire enough counselors, psychologists and social workers to work with troubled students and carry out prevention programs.”

Glum’s article provided many examples of the kinds of snake oil remedies school districts were rushing to put in place and lots of data supporting the assertion that millions of dollars have been spent on door locks and good guys with guns. She also offered the state of Indiana as an exemplar of how politicians are using the lingering fear of school shootings to set spending priorities:

If there’s one state making moves on school security, it’s Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 147 into law there last month. The bill turns over authority for setting school security standards to the state Department of Homeland Security and requires an emergency response system that transmits information to law enforcement during an active shooter situation, the Clarion News of Corydon reported.

Mason Wooldridge, co-founder of the Our Kids Deserve IT group that helped push the legislation through, said he hoped these factors would improve officers’ response times and tactics once arriving on scene. He also said he wanted the state to establish building codes for constructing new schools, requiring things like “much better doors, glass that can’t be penetrated [and] a camera system directly connected to the dispatch center.”

Wooldridge also supported the remodel of Southwestern High School, which NBC’s Today Show labeled “the safest school in America.” Teachers at the Shelbyville, Indiana, school carry key fobs at all times that can alert police to a problem, and halls are equipped with smoke that can impede a suspect’s vision, PRI reported.

Though he knows not all schools will be able to afford that, Wooldridge said he hopes the movement spreads to states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

“Let’s not wish we had done something better in a few years,” he said. “Let’s do something now.”

I cannot understand how moving the responsibility for school safety to a federal agency is seen as a move in the right direction. The more we move further and further away from local control of schools the more we move closer to a centralized governance structure that places a premium on controlling the behavior of children 24/7. Since Columbine our children have grown up in an atmosphere of fear and distrust and now one state will be imposing federal control over the day-to-day safety of children. Somewhere George Orwell is weeping.

 

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