School district officials remember Columbine shootings
Time has done little to dull Moffat County School District Officials’ memories of April 20, 1999 – the day of deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton.
On that day, two armed students – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – killed 12 students and one teacher, and wounded 23 others.
On Monday, the day Gov. Bill Ritter ordered flags to be flown at half-mast, school in Moffat County carried on like any normal day. However, that doesn’t mean that some had forgotten what happened a decade ago.
Liane Davis-Kling, government teacher, was at Moffat County High School when the shootings occurred.
“The one thing I remember was I had a student in my class who had a friend that was in the cafeteria that day,” Davis-Kling said. “She was upset because she didn’t know how her friend was.
“I would go home, and be glued to the television for eons. Eventually, I had to say ‘OK, stop.'”
Pete Bergmann, school district superintendent, was the principal of Ridgeview Elementary School in 1999.
He said the shootings were especially horrific because of where they occurred.
“I probably had all the same impressions everyone did,” Bergmann said. “School has been held as a sacred place for nonviolence. It’s hard to conceive that something like that could occur.
“Schools have been a place of refuge from violence.”
However, Columbine changed all that, Bergmann said.
“It was kind of a wake-up call,” he said. “Schools aren’t this sacred safe place anymore, and it’s our job to be proactive to ensure it’s a safe place.
“That day kicked off a lot of proactive planning to ensure safety in our schools.”
Part of that planning has evolved into a strategic plan for the schools in case of an emergency.
“Because of threats of violence, and as a result of Columbine, we have a comprehensive emergency response plan,” Bergmann said. “The plans change annually and drills, lockdown situations utilize those plans.”
Included in those plans are lockdown procedures in case of emergencies.
Davis-Kling said there were two types of lockdowns – yellow and red. A yellow lockdown was used for nonviolent emergencies, and teachers can continue with their classes.
In a red lockdown, lights are turned off and doors are locked, Davis-Kling said.
“Red means there’s a shooter in the building, like Columbine,” she said. “The lights are turned off so they will just keep moving on.”
Lockdowns usually are used for medical or other nonviolent emergencies, Bergmann said.
“Most emergency situations we’ve dealt with are not violent,” he said. “It’s emergencies, mishaps, fire drills, or evacuating for bomb threats.”
The security at the high school has improved dramatically, Davis-Kling said.
“Things have tightened up,” Davis-Kling said. “One of the things I did was count the actual exits out of this building. I went over that whole situation, and talked about it in class.
“It’s still not as strict as some schools where they have security checkpoints, like going through the airport.”
Having cell phones in class may be a distraction, Davis-Kling said, but during an emergency, they serve a vital purpose.
“Kids were calling out, and that’s why students can have cell phones,” Davis-Kling said. “The parents need to know in that type of emergency.”
Since Columbine, the school has added an extra staircase, the main office on the first floor, and keyed doors in the classrooms. The bond issue passed in November 2007 included money for security upgrades, including security cameras.
Bergmann said having the office near the main entrance was a security upgrade.
“All visitors must report to the main office, and we’ve implemented a lot of things to improve safety and security,” Bergmann said. “No one is allowed in the schools without a visitors pass, and there is raised awareness of people out of place.”
Even with the added security, situations still arise, Bergmann said.
“There have been some tense, potentially threatening situations,” he said, “where we’ve had domestic issues spilled over into the school, or a report of some former grads who robbed a place in Wyoming, and may be headed back to Craig. Those kinds of things, not necessarily a threat, are at our doorstep.
“Tempers are flaring, sometimes it’s parents, sometimes it’s suspicious people. Nothing turned into an actual emergency.”
Joel Sheridan, school district construction liaison, was the principal of Moffat County High School in 1999. He said the shootings added meaning to otherwise meaningless phrases.
“We were more on-guard. In the old days, when you said, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ it meant nothing,” Sheridan said. “That took on a totally different connotation after the incident at Columbine.”
Sheridan said the staff had to closely monitor any threats, serious or otherwise.
“We had to take everything seriously, even just kidding around, even if there wasn’t any intention of harming another student or person,” Sheridan said. “We had to deal with that as if it was a serious threat.”
Sheridan said the attitude concerning violent comments changed dramatically, and almost immediately after the shootings.
“Saying ‘You’re going to get yours,’ any of those, just kind of at-random comments, the person had to be called into the office and have to talk to a counselor to make sure there was no serious threat,” he said. “It was confusing – it was an abrupt change to how we did business.”
Sheridan said there was never a moment when he feared something could happen at the high school, but everyone was still on-edge.
“I was concerned for the safety of the school, never concerned for my own safety,” Sheridan said. “I imagine most teachers and staff at Moffat County, and probably most students, didn’t have that imminent fear. Some probably did, but there was a heightened sense of alert at all times.”
Sheridan said the shock of Columbine eventually faded.
“After the initial shock – all the sadness and tragedy – after a while, we went on with business,” Sheridan said. “It’s a healthy thing, particularly for students, that you do move on.”
Ben Bulkeley can be reached at 875-1795 or email@example.com.
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