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The Aftermath of Columbine

Bullying in Schools

Certainly, Harris and Klebold felt like outsiders. They hated the “niggers, spics, Jews, gays, f___ing whites,” the enemies who teased them and the friends who didn’t do enough to stand up for them. Eric grew up in a military family and moved often, made fun of by his peers as he had to start anew at each place. Dylan complained that his older brother and his friends (who were athletic and popular) “ripped on him” and that he felt alienated by his entire extended family – everyone save for his parents – saying they “added to the rage.” They were adamant about not wanting to be included; in fact, they insisted that they were “original.”

When they opened fire in the school, they did not target individuals. It was a revenge fantasy that aimed to indiscriminately take the lives of as many people as possible. They sought fame, wanting to kick-start a revolution for all those who had suffered and been cast out.

It was widely disputed whether or not bullying could be blamed for what happened at Columbine.  In 2002, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Education Department released The Safe School Initiative, a study that found that “school shooters followed no set profile but most were depressed and felt persecuted.” Since the attack, almost every state has adopted anti-bullying laws, although every state’s policies differ. Spending on school counselors skyrocketed after 1999, rising from $20 million in 2000 to $50 million by 2009. Programs grew to help foster student involvement with school and safety: for example, Shane Jimerson, a school psychology professor at UC Santa Barbara, co-authored a crisis workshop that over 2,000 school employees in about 40 states have taken.

Lax School Security

By far, after Columbine the country saw the most visible difference in school security. These attacks were the catalyst for a school safety movement that was the result, in some places, of paranoia.

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Harris and Klebold caught on surveillance camera in the school cafeteria. They were able to enter campus fully armed without anyone noticing or stopping them.

Schools across the nation locked their doors more regularly, installed security cameras (some even installed metal detectors at the front doors) and mass-notification call systems, stationed more police officers and guards, and required all staff and visitors to wear ID badges. President Clinton signed into law the punishment of a one year suspension for bringing a gun to school. Parents demanded a zero-tolerance approach to school security in the aftermath of the attack as they awaited long-term solutions.

The problem was that zero tolerance meant blurring the distinction between real threats and pranks or unintentional offenses. In Virginia, a teacher called the police on a 10-year-old after he squirted soap gel into a teacher’s water bottle. A 10th grader was kicked out of school for having blue-dyed hair. Schools in four states suspended at least 20 children for the possession of Alka-Seltzer. In Illinois, a seven-year-old was suspended for bringing nail clippers to school. A student even got in trouble for holding a chicken strip as if it were a gun.

As time passed, schools relaxed a little more about security. The U.S. Department of Justice in 2005 got rid of a program that had placed 6,300 police officers in public schools. Years later, the Secret Service reported that the extra security measures taken up by schools after Columbine were “unlikely to help.” In fact, it was found that the increased placement of security guards on campus did little to combat violence but did increase the number of student arrests for minor infractions.

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A New Paltz Police officer patrols the lobby of the New Paltz High School in May 1999 just weeks after the Columbine High School tragedy, which took place on April 20, 1999. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

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